EmptyCANNES -- You've got to love the Festival de Cannes for giving an Out of Competition spot to the veteran, British-born French actress Jane Birkin for her directorial feature debut, "Boxes." It might have been kinder, however, to not throw a glaring spotlight on this vanity production. What little joy the film brings comes from watching two other veterans, Geraldine Chaplin and Michel Piccoli, performing wonderfully in fairly substantial supporting roles. Otherwise, the possibility of this film traveling beyond French-speaking markets is improbable.
Birkin, who writes, directs and stars, plays Anna, a sixtysomething woman who has moved into a big house on the Brittany coast. As she unpacks her boxes, people and ghosts from the past appear: three daughters, three ex-husbands, her late father and mother, even former residents of the house.
So the movie becomes a sort of one-woman show with a whole bunch of special guest appearances. Nearly everyone is bitter and disappointed with Anna. The late ex-husband (Maurice Benichou) whom she dumped, the ex-husband (Tcheky Karyo) who dumped her and the first one (John Hurt), now a famous writer whom she claims to not remember, remain hugely upset.
Her daughters wonder, "Am I pretty? Am I what you'd hoped for?" They complain of neglect and indifference. One casually mentions the time Mom had a drug overdose. Anna's mother (Chaplin) has her list of complaints, too, but she doesn't seem to take things too seriously. And her late father (Piccoli) is so happy to be alive again -- at least in his daughter's mind -- that he can only laugh about the past.
So much emotional neediness and so little ability on everyone's part to express love! The repetition and excessiveness of scene after scene wears you down fairly early. When Anna suddenly realizes she doesn't know her own children at all, you know exactly how she feels: None of these characters reveal his or herself in any way during the 100 minutes of "Boxes."
Les Films de la Croisade
Director-screenwriter: Jane Birkin
Producer: Emmanuel Giraud
Director of photography: Francois Catonne
Music: Frank Eulry
Costume designer: Mic Cheminal
Editor: Marie-Jo Audiard
Mother: Geraldine Chaplin
Father: Michel Piccoli
Anna: Jane Birkin
Fanny: Natacha Regnier, Camille: Lou Doillon
Lilly: Adele Exarchopoulos
Fanny's father: John Hurt
Max: Maurice Benichou
Jean: Tcheky Karyo
Josephine: Annie Girardot
Running time -- 100 minutes
No MPAA rating