His Mother's Eyes (Les Yeux de sa mere): Movie Review

French ensemble piece offers decent performances marred by shortsighted storytelling and a blurred vision of family dynamics.

Despite being a star-studded melodrama with the climatic highlight of a parallel montage of dancing, boxing and live broadcasting, this French film from Thierry Klifa turns an enticing premise into a low impact "Magnolia."

PARIS -- Film journalist turned filmmaker Thierry Klifa delivers another star-studded melodrama with the ensemble piece, His Mother’s Eyes (Les Yeux de sa mere). Yet the abundance of A-list talent can’t make up for a drawn out narrative with serious credibility issues, turning an enticing premise into a low impact Magnolia.

With Catherine Deneuve headlining, Eyes should see a strong local opening March 23, though business may taper off after an initial surge. Sales in Francophone and Euro territories are a given, while a Stateside distributor may be harder to find.

Like his previous features, I’ve Been Waiting So Long and Family Hero, Klifa again teams up with screenwriter Christopher Thompson (Avenue Montaigne) to present an array of characters united by blood ties that bind and then unravel. Establishing three intertwining arcs, the story has all the elements for a gripping family saga, only to fall short of expectations as the plot progresses.

Things start off on shaky ground, with the entire cast presented through scenes cross-cut in whiplash fashion: Mathieu (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is an investigative writer whose next target is famed anchorwoman Lena Weber (Deneuve). Lena’s estranged daughter, Maria (Geraldine Pailhas), and her grandmother (Marisa Paredes) travel from Spain, where Maria’s father has died, to Paris, where she is prepping a contemporary dance piece. And somewhere in Brittany, a young boxer, Bruno (Jean-Baptiste Lafarge), is training for a fight under the watchful eyes of his mom (Marina Fois) and dad (Jean-Marc Barr).

Though it takes time to connect the dots among all of the above, it soon becomes evident that Klifa is trying to portray several generations of a family that’s been torn apart by ambition. The fact that he does so with little subtlety, and has to rely on questionable storytelling (a Blackberry left on a car seat, a wallet falling out of pocket) is one part of the problem. The other is that the characters are mostly archetypes who have been furnished merely to be inserted into the puzzle-like scenario. By the time the pieces fit together, we’re not too concerned with what happens to them.

Despite its drawbacks, the film presents some engaging moments, especially those involving Mathieu and Lena. Hired as the latter’s production assistant, Mathieu smooth talks his way into discovering her darkest secrets, only to have them blow up in his face, forcing him to question the moral aspects of journalism.

As expected, Deneuve gives a strong performance as Lena, a character who seems to be modeled on French news star Claire Chazal. Duvauchelle (White Material) offers up an uneven though energetic turn as the brooding Mathieu, and has some encouraging tete-a-tete’s (both literally and physically) with promising newcomer Lafarge. The weakest link is Klifa regular Pailhas, who puts plenty of muscle into the dance scenes, but is mired by sentimental dialogue, not to mention a late plot twist that comes completely out of left field.

Cinematographer Julien Hirsch (The Girl on the Train) and composer Gustavo Santoalalla (Biutiful) contribute to the slick Franco-Belgian production, whose highlight is a parallel montage of dancing, boxing and live broadcasting. That sequence is still too little, too late, in a film that fails to transform its numerous elements into convincing drama.

Opens: In France March 23
Production companies: LGM Cinema, La Petite Reine, France 2 Cinema, Tarantula, RTBF (Television belge)
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Geraldine Pailhas, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Marisa Paredes, Marina Fois, Jean-Marc Barr, Jean-Baptiste Lafarge, Helene Filieres, Gilles Cohen Karole Rocher
Director: Thierry Klifa
Screenwriters: Thierry Klifa, Christopher Thompson
Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Production designer: Emmanuelle Duplay
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla
Costume designer: Catherine Leterrier
Editor: Luc Barnier
Sales Agent: Kinology
No rating, 105 minutes