'Graziella': Film Review

Graziella Still - H 2015
Courtesy of SIFF

Graziella Still - H 2015

A poignant study of two weary but hopeful outcasts

Rossy de Palma and Denis Lavant play prisoners in love.

A soulful examination of two defeated middle-aged characters who aren't sure that life holds the possibility of a second act, Mehdi Charef's Graziella offers the truly inspired pairing of Rossy de Palma with Denis Lavant. As prisoners who form a connection while employed together on work-release, the two actors are beautifully matched, neither needing much dialogue to explain their cautious determination to reconnect with a world that abandoned them. Their art house pedigree should draw attention to a film that merits theatrical exposure beyond the fest circuit.

De Palma plays the title character, who is nearing the end of the term she's serving for killing her father. She goes to work as one of three caretakers at a deserted boarding school, where she meets Antoine (Levant) and is told, with no explanation, "Be careful of him — he's like you." The two bond deeply in a way we understand to be romantic despite the fact that well over halfway through the film, we haven't seen them kiss.

But each has other needs from the outside world they're just being allowed to reenter — desires to reconnect or at least make peace with family members who harbor resentments we don't always understand (just as we don't know the details of their crimes). In this small community, everyone knows Graziella and Antoine's business but us; while some are supportive, the general sense is of a game that is rigged to prevent their post-prison happiness.

Antoine was a projectionist before going to jail, and Charef uses his memories of a favorite film (Ettore Scola's Una giornata particolare, starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni) to beautiful effect; the character's dreamy absorption in cinema and poetry contrasts poignantly with the dangerous choices he makes to secure his daughter's future. Though Graziella is named for and is ultimately about de Palma's character, it would hardly exist without Lavant's.

Production company: K.G. Productions

Cast: Rossy de Palma, Denis Lavant, Claire Nebout

Director-Screenwriter: Medhi Charef

Producer: Michele Ray-Gavras

Director of photography: Giorgos Arvanitis

Production designer: Jeremie Sfez

Editor: Yorgos Lamprinos

Music: Eric Neveux

No rating, 92 minutes