'The Girl and the River' ('La fille at le fleuve'): Cannes Review

The Girl and the River - H 2014
31 Juin Film

The Girl and the River - H 2014

A fantastical drama spiced up by peculiar imagery but an undercooked narrative.

French director Aurelia Georges' low-budget offering follows a woman's attempt to communicate with her dead husband.

The second effort from French helmer Aurelia Georges, the low-budget -- or perhaps more appropriately no-budget -- The Girl and the River revolves around the young couple Nouk (Sabrina Seyvecou) and Samuel (Guillaume Allardi), whose souring marriage was cut short when the latter dies from a traffic accident in central Paris. Her already fractured emotions now pushed to the edge, the woman pieces her life together by trying to communicate with her dead spouse, thanks to the help of a suicidal man (actor-director Serge Bozon of La France fame) who offers to find him once he dies and reaches the other side.

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Clocking in at just more than an hour, the film -- which premiered at the ultra-indie ACID sidebar during the Cannes Film Festival on May 20 -- harbors interesting but underdeveloped threads. Georges' co-written screenplay (with Sarah Jacquet) touches on a multitude of issues -- the chasm between nature and culture, for one, or the banal nature of work in modern capitalistic life -- but they are touched on and seemingly just cast aside once their use as plot points of the story's central relationship expires. It's a sign of the writer-director not exactly completely certain in giving the fantastical fable a coherent anchor to reality -- it's a story about how love gets a hammering by harsh circumstances, after all.

In what is obviously a reference to Hirokazu Kore-eda's After life -- in which the deceased would land in heaven and then go through an very regimented process to secure the one most valuable memory in their lives -- Georges' coup de grace lies in the setting up of a strange hereafter. It's world run by fumbling bureaucrats and brimming with daily events such as a poetry reading by Marilyn Monroe and a lecture on butterflies delivered by Vladimir Nabokov; a self-styled intellectual, Samuel thrives in the opportunity of being in the company of such luminaries.

But the fact that Samuel is seen really having quite a stimulating time up (or down) there somehow defeats the emotional backbone of the piece. In a way, it mirrors his egoistical behavior while still alive, as he rants about his wife's excessive attachment to her -- something which suffocates his professional ambitions. (He is seen making phone calls for the sake of writing articles for a tabloid magazine, but there's no portrayal of his pompous pronouncement of "doing research" for some grandiose academic project.) This doesn't sit well with a scene of the couple -- speaking on two differently-colored sides of the frame - professing their undying love toward each other across two worlds.

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It's an approach that can readily provide The Girl and the River with the admittedly tragic context in which human relationships could develop -- a manifestation of how, say, some things never change for the poor, suppressed and more often than not female party in a marriage. Samuel's conversation with Albert Einstein's wife, in which she laments of her unacknowledged input to her husband's life and work, is thus rendered merely a gimmick highlighting the quirkiness of the film's vision of heaven.

Shot by a team of four cameramen, the film's HD cinematography is considerably measured so as to highlight the difference between Nouk's life in the mortal realm and Samuel's in the ethereal world. Georges has proved herself to be canny in employing measured mise-en-scene and editing from the past in putting her views across, but the uneven weight given to different parts of the ongoing narrative produces jumpy storytelling. While The Girl and the River is unlikely to break out of its ACID presence to wider exposure elsewhere, there's always the next film for Georges to count on.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (ACID), May 20, 2014

Production Company: 31 Juin Films

Director: Aurélia Georges

Cast: Sabrina Seyvecou, Guillaume Allardi, Serge Bozon, Françoise Lebrun

Producer: Emmanuel Barraux

Screenwriters: Sarah Jacquet, Aurélia Georges
Cinematographers: Julien Guillery, Nicolas Contant, Hugues Geminiani, Thomas Favel
Editor: Martial Salomon

Music: Vadim Sher
In French

No rating, 64 minutes