The Girl From Nowhere: Film Review

"The Girl From Nowhere"
Dull melange of lowbrow and highbrow goes nowhere special.

Jean-Claude Brisseau's latest low-budget affair won top prize at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival.

PARIS -- Seasoned French cineaste Jean-Claude Brisseau continues exploring the many facets of his own navel (when it’s not other body parts) in The Girl From Nowhere (La Fille de nulle part), a melancholic and harmless cocktail of low-rent scares and high-end pontificating that nabbed the Golden Leopard at last year’s Locarno Film Festival. Set inside the filmmaker’s own apartment, this cerebral two-hander-cum-ghost story often has the craft level of a freshman video project, with the acting chops to match, and won't go anywhere beyond French fests and a micro-sized local release.

A former high school teacher, Brisseau made a name for himself in the late '80s/early '90s by directing a handful of frank and piercingly performed dramas, including the Vanessa Paradis starrer Noce blanche and the racy legal thriller, L’Ange noir.

But over the last decade, he’s turned his sights on what many would categorize as auteur softcore, with projects like Secret Things and The Exterminating Angels featuring nubile young actresses engaging in hot lesbian twosomes and live masturbation, surely for the sake of cinematic art. (Although not according to the French courts, which in 2005 condemned Brisseau for sexually harassing women who took part in his “casting couch” sessions on Things. He was charged for the same crime in 2007 but acquitted.)

With an advertising campaign featuring yet another up-and-coming comedienne in the buff, it would seem that his latest low-budget effort would be headed in the same direction. As it turns out, this labor of love is less art-house erotica than jumbled highbrow horror -- something like Paranormal Activity meets The Strange Case of Angelica, yet with neither the frights of the former nor the divine gaze of the latter.

In a nutshell, Brisseau plays a long-mourning widower and retired math professor who literally finds a battered beauty, Dora (Virginie Legeau), lying on his doorstep. He takes her in and tries to call the police, but she holds him back for unknown reasons. Soon enough, the mysterious girl is shacked up in the prof’s cavernous Parisian flat, where strange phenomena -- slamming doors, tumbling water bottles, somebody running around with a sheet -- start occurring, preventing the curmudgeon from working on a self-published manifesto with the humble title of “Reflections, Analysis and Critique of Our Beliefs.”

Mixing quotes from Victor Hugo and Sigmund Freud, desktop reproductions of Van Gogh and the Renaissance masters, and a scene where the two protagonists play around with a levitating table, the film attempts to combine the supernatural with the super-intellectual, but is so flimsily made and woodenly acted, it’s hard to take any of it seriously (or even humorously, as Brisseau seems to be attempting at times). And while the sugar daddy dynamic between the teacher and his much younger house guest remains a rather gentle one, there’s too little genuine interaction between the two to make their relationship compelling, let alone believable.

Technically speaking, the film’s amateurish videography is hard to digest, while the sound mix is rough enough in certain places to suggest a barely polished student movie. Meanwhile, the director’s own massive DVD and VHS library serves as set decoration, which has the reverse effect of making one long for the Ford at Fox box-set or Jean Renoir collection lingering in the background, rather than the movie at hand.

Production companies: La Sorciere Rouge
Cast: Jean-Claude Brisseau, Virginie Legeau, Claude Morel
Director, screenwriter: Jean-Claude Brisseau
Producer: Jean-Claude Brisseau
Director of photography: David Chambille
Production designers: Maria-Luisa Garcia, Clemence Bry
Editors: Maria-Luisa Garcia, Julie Picouleau
Sales Agent: Wide Management
No rating, 90 minutes