'Elle l’adore': Film Review

Courtesy of Studiocanal
A fangirl gets in over her head in this intriguing first French feature

Sandrine Kiberlain ('9-Month Stretch') and Laurent Lafitte ('Bright Days Ahead') play unlikely culprits in this debut feature from writer-director Jeanne Herry

The price of fame and the cost of fandom come crashing together in some amusingly suspenseful ways in Elle l’adore, the debut feature from French actress-turned-director Jeanne Herry.

Starring the terrific Sandrine Kiberlain as a groupie who provides way more than a helping hand to her favorite rock star (played by a straight-faced Laurent Lafitte), the film offers up a deadpan modern-day take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, except here there’s only one possible murder but plenty of incompetence to cover up. Filled with strong performances and numerous twists that keep the tension high, even if the plot gets tied up a tad too neatly, this StudioCanal release should see solid numbers at home while breaking out overseas to select small-scale distributors.

First seen telling her estranged children a story about how she cruelly impersonated someone else, Muriel (Kiberlain) is a woman who, as the French like to say, is “uncomfortable in her own skin.” This may explain why she’s not only a mythomaniac, making up lies so that her job as a beautician sounds more interesting, but why she’s dedicated the better part of her life to following popular singer Vincent Lacroix (Lafitte), who’s about to release his latest album and embark on another tour.

Most stars like to keep a safe distance from their fans, but when Vincent accidentally kills his girlfriend (Lou Lesage) during a domestic spat — in a scene that seems inspired by a 2003 incident involving Noir Desir frontman Bertrant Cantet and the late Marie Trintignant — he calls on Muriel to help dispose of the body. While such a choice seems to be totally out of left field, it soon becomes clear that Vincent is one step of ahead of everyone around him, including a pair of detectives (Pascal Demolon and Olivia Cote) who are in the process of separating, and whose amorous squabbles aren’t helping the case one bit.

Cutting between Vincent, Muriel and the cops as they begin to close in on their culprit, the script builds suspense out of the various quid pro quos between the characters, each of whom is missing a key piece of information about exactly what has transpired. For a while, Vincent believes that Muriel has followed his orders by getting rid of the corpse in Switzerland, only to learn that her lies can even extend to such a dangerous task. Meanwhile, Muriel believes that Vincent can do no wrong, and is naively sucked not only into assisting with the homicide, but also into possibly taking the fall for it.

First-time director Herry — the daughter of actress Miou-Miou and singer Julien Clerc — maintains a steady intrigue by introducing various plot twists throughout, although the mechanics are less interesting than the two protagonists, who become codependent in unexpected ways while still guarding their star-fan dichotomy. While this works fine for much of Elle l’adore (which means “She adores him” in French), things all too cleanly come to a head in the last act, with Herry taking psychological shortcuts for characters who are surely more complicated than they ultimately seem.

Following last year’s local breakout hit, 9-Month Stretch, for which she received a Cesar for Best Actress, Kiberlain offers yet another winning performance that mixes deadpan hijinks with something darker: Muriel is clearly out of her mind, yet remains endearing all the same, and the lengthy scene where she’s interrogated by the detective couple shows how well Kiberlain can carry a joke to its ambiguous farthest. Lafitte (Bright Days Ahead), on the other hand, is more serious than usual, whereas it might have helped the film if Vincent had been a bit funnier, if not necessarily likable.

Tech credits are highlighted by slick widescreen lensing from Axel Cosnefroy (Boule & Bill) and a playful score by Pascal Sangla (Best in Bed). Elle l’adore received the Michel d’Ornano prize at the 2014 Deauville American Film Festival.

Production companies: Les Productions du Tresor, Chi-Fou-Mi Productions
Cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Laurent Lafitte, Pascal Demolon, Olivia Cote
Director: Jeanne Herry
Screenwriter: Jeanne Herry, in collaboration with Gaelle Mace
Producers: Alain Attal, Hugo Selignac
Executive producer: Xavier Amblard
Director of photography: Axel Cosnefroy
Production designer: Johann George
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovski
Editor: Francis Vesin
Composer: Pascal Sangla
Sales: StudioCanal

No MPAA rating, 105 minutes