'Diane Has the Right Shape' ('Diane a les epaules'): Film Review

Courtesy of Petit Films
An offbeat dramedy whose emotions run deep.

French actress Clotilde Hesme ('Regular Lovers') portrays a surrogate mother in this debut dramedy from writer-director Fabien Gorgeart.

Putting aside its rather banal international title, the new French dramedy Diane Has the Right Shape (Diane a les epaules, which could be translated as You Can Depend on Diane) marks a promising feature debut from writer-director Fabien Gorgeart, who teams up with star Coltilde Hesme for a well-observed portrait of a woman embarking on a new romance while also having a baby — though one that isn’t hers to keep.

Quirky in its early stages but increasingly emotional as things get closer to term, the film is very much crafted around Hesme’s ability to oscillate between offbeat humor and inner turmoil, playing a character who gets pregnant purely as a favor for friends. Released in France to strong reviews, this small but effective indie effort could find a few adopters overseas both on the fest circuit and in niche release.

The thirtysomething Diane (Hesme) is first seen cruelly insulting a guy at a nightclub, then making out with him a few seconds later. Next she’s at the local clinic getting an ultrasound, at which point we learn that she’s serving as a surrogate mother for her best buddy, Thomas (Thomas Suire), and his boyfriend, Jacques (Gregory Montel).

With no real job or plans beyond waiting to give birth, Diane hangs around the isolated country house of her grandparents, which she decides to fix up in her free time. When an electrician named Fabrizio (Fabrizio Rongione) swings by to make some repairs, the two quickly fall for one another, though their affair is soon complicated by Diane’s situation — especially the fact that her body seems to be as much the property of Thomas and Jacques as it is her own.

Gorgeart mines the material for some laughs during the opening reels, such as in a sequence where Diane and Fabrizio practice martial arts together, but the narrative gradually shifts tones as the big day approaches. It’s only then that Diane seems to realize the magnitude of her decision to carry someone else’s child, and at that moment both she and the audience suddenly begin to take things very seriously.

In earlier movies like Regular Lovers or Love Songs, Hesme revealed her talent for playing waifish, brooding Parisians who seemed to step straight out of a French New Wave film. There’s a bit of that darkness in Diane as well, though it’s nice to see the actress trying something else here, engaging in stints of body comedy that include a recurring gag where her character keeps dislocating her shoulder (the “epaule” of the French title). Yet such playfulness is upended the day Diane finally has the baby, and the film’s extended labor scene deftly combines the physical pain of giving birth with the emotional pain and confusion of giving the child up.

Rongione, who was memorable as Marion Cotillard’s husband in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, plays a rather nonchalant character who grows more and more despondent as the story progresses, and as much as Fabrizio is fond of Diane he can only put up with the situation for so long. There’s a growing frustration in his eyes that the viewer feels as well: that of seeing a potentially great person who's unable to take control of her own life and winds up suffering the consequences. Having a child will hopefully change all of that for Diane, and even if she will never be a mother in the classic sense, by the end of the film it feels like she has finally come of age.

Production company: Petit Film
Cast: Clotilde Hesme, Fabrizio Rongione, Thomas Suire, Gregory Montel
Director-screenwriter: Fabien Gorgeart
Producer: Jean des Forets
Director of photography: Thomas Bataille
Production designer: Cyril Gomez-Mathieu
Costume designer: Celine Brelaud
Editor: Damien Maestraggi
Sales: Be For Films

In French
97 minutes

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