Elza: Film Review

Caribbean family melodrama is heartfelt but clumsy

Mariette Monpierre draws on her biography for a debut feature about a young Parisian woman with Caribbean roots trying to reconnect with her estranged father.

A young Caribbean émigré goes searching for the father who abandoned her in Mariette Monpierre's Elza, a debut feature whose personal nature is obvious but doesn't compensate for serious dramatic flaws. The picture may resonate with viewers from communities where such tales of paternal estrangement are common, but commercial prospects are very limited.

Like the filmmaker, recent college grad Elza (a spirited Stana Roumillac) was born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe but raised in Paris by her mother. Defying Mom's wishes, she returns to the island in hopes of reconnecting with a biological father who has his own family and has made no contact for years. Rather than approach him directly, she stumbles into a job as his granddaughter's babysitter, getting a first-hand look at a wealthy family whose closeted skeletons and stifled grudges could keep a soap-opera scribe happy for months.

The relationship schematics here -- an extended household of philandering husbands, neglected or unavailable wives, problem children -- may be entirely plausible, but it's scripted and acted with unfortunate crudeness; a wicked half-sister and her groping husband are thin enough, but the father Elza yearns for (Vincent Byrd Le Sage) is such a soulless cipher it's hard to accept Elza's need, even after seeing his continued betrayals firsthand, for his approval. When Monpierre finally whips up a storybook reconciliation for the two (triggered by shamelessly contrived melodrama), many viewers will find the heroine impossible to identify with.

Production Company: Autonomous Entertainment

Cast: Stana Roumillac, Vincent Byrd Le Sage, Christophe Cherki, Sophie Berger, Teddy Doloir, Eve Constant, Jihane Botreau-Roubel

Director: Mariette Monpierre

Screenwriters: Mama Keita, Mariette Monpierre

Producers: Eric Basset, Mariette Monpierre, Gérard Lacroix, Edgard Tenembaum

Executive producers: Mama Keita

Director of photography: Rémi Mazet

Music: David Fackeure

Editors: Virginie Danglades, Jerome Raim

No rating, 82 minutes