'Elle l'adore': Shanghai Review

Slow-burning cat-and-mouse drama turns the tables on the crazed fan genre.

Actress Jeanne Herry makes her feature directorial debut with Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lacroix in a genre mash-up.

An obsessive and delusion fangirl gets drawn into a conspiracy involving her rock star idol in Elle l’adore, a bizarrely comedic and intensely Gallic drama that flirts with suspense thriller territory in the oddest, most roundabout way. Director Jeanne Herry’s feature debut is low-key in its twisted humor, opting more for subtle observational wit (that sometimes hits its mark, sometimes misses) than laugh-out-loud gags. Domestic and European audiences are likely to revel in the way the film weaves a sophisticated head game, though others weaned on the likes of the (sure to be) brisker Gone Girl may grow impatient with the more placid tone. Elle l’adore should have strong and broad festival prospects.

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Beautician Muriel Bayen (Sandrine Kiberlain, Violette’s Simone de Beauvoir) is a divorced mother with two uninterested kids and a 12-year-old girl’s fixation on superstar pop singer Vincent Lacroix (Comedie-Francaise company member Laurent Lafitte, Little White Lies). Her friends and family are used to her spinning fantastical tales and, for the most part, act as enablers by cutting magazine clippings she may have missed and indulging her whims. A regular backstage at his shows, Muriel befriends Vincent’s assistant and fan wrangler Guillaume (Benjamin Lavernhe) as they’ve come to know each other in passing. With her frizzy blonde locks, she’s hard to miss, even though her body language suggests she’d rather blend into the background.

After an argument with his moody wife one evening ends with her taking an accidental but fatal blow to the head, Vincent scuttles around, trying to come up with a way to explain his dead partner, and preferably make dissapear, and decides Muriel is his best option. (It’s a movie, so simply calling an ambulance or the police are never considered.) Vincent concocts an elaborate plan to send Muriel to his sister Isabelle in Switzerland, hand her a letter from Vincent, and let her take of the body after that. She’s also never to look in the trunk of her car, which he appropriates for the crime. End of story.

But of course, it’s not really. Border patrols and sniffer dogs throw a wrench in Vincent’s best laid plans (which include eventually filing a missing persons report) and force Muriel to improvise—after she looks in the trunk. When police inspector Antoine (Pascal Demolon) and his nymphomaniac girlfriend and partner Coline (Olivia Cote) start to suspect foul play, Vincent starts to take little steps that set Muriel up for murder.

That’s the first move that drives Elle l’adore’s winding, somewhat predictable, cat and mouse-type game, one that sees the power dynamic shift back and forth between the naïve Muriel and the increasingly frantic Vincent. Herry, who also wrote the script, piles crazy plot twist upon crazy plot twist, which played mostly seriously by the cast come off like a subtle jab at the crazed fan sub-genre even as it delicately explores the power of obsession, idolatry and celebrity. Because the film is not one that induces guffaws and relies on absurdity, the pleasure comes from watching Vincent watch his world flirt with crumbling and Muriel gaining the upper hand. While under the impression Muriel carried out his instructions, Vincent’s chat with Isabelle—who’s supposed to know the code for “all clear” yet is clearly oblivious to it—is an awkward, ominously funny moment, as he tries fruitlessly to elicit the expected answer. The realization dawning on his face is priceless. That’s the moment the power dynamic switches.

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The film takes a more dramatic turn in the later stages with Antoine’s lengthy interrogation of Muriel, and the story almost falls apart in last act when the bickering Coline and Antoine abandon Vincent the suspect (admittedly amusing) because of their rocky romance. There are elements of Elle l’adore that don’t settle into the overall tone all that comfortably—among them Coline’s unbridled sex drive, which leads her into a tryst with another cop on the case, Sebastien (Sebastien Knafo), and then some snippy behavior from Antoine. But Kiberlain keeps the whole thing together with a tightly wound performance as woman who learns her worth. In a cinematic landscape dominated by images of fangirls (and boys) as socially inept and/or borderline stupid, it’s also a refreshing balm to see Muriel’s obsessive tween girl fantasies become her salvation. Herry juggles dark comedy and drama deftly, and is complemented by Loic Chavanon’s gray, linear Scandinavian production design and sterile spaces, the opposite of Muriel and Vincent’s mindsets.

Production company: Chi-Fou-Mi Productions, Les Productions du Tresor
Cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Laurent Lafitte, Olivia Cote, Pascal Demolon, Benjamin Lavernhe, Sebastien Knafo, Emilie Gavois-Kahn, Nicolas Berger-Vachon, Aude Leger
Director: Jeanne Herry
Screenwriter: Jeanne Herry
Producer: Alain Attal, Hugo Selignac
Executive producer: Xavier Amblard
Director of photography: Axel Cosnefro
Production designer: Loic Chavanon
Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovski
Editor: Francis Vesin
Music: Nicolas Charron
Sales: StudioCanal
No rating, 103 minutes