Les Coquillettes: Film Review

Les Coquillettes - H - 2013
Sophie Letourneur's second feature is smart, sassy and surprisingly fresh.

Sophie Letourneur's "Girls"-style French indie dramedy revolves around three thirtysomethings making their way through the Locarno Film Festival.

PARIS -- Writer-director Sophie Letourneur -- France’s own auteurist answer to Lena Dunham -- delivers a solid second feature with Les Coquillettes, a chatty, droll and craftily conceived off-the-cuff story of three filles frolicking their way through the Locarno Film Festival. Composed of a cast of non-pros, including a slew of Euro movie critics and fest mongers, the film may irritate some with all its elitist art house name-dropping, but otherwise provides a frank and funny portrait of thirtysomethings trying, but hardly getting, satisfaction over several gloomy days and boozy nights.

Shot for a mere $40,000 in just over a week, this ultra-indie effort premiered at the lakeside Swiss festival and followed with stints at Angers, Bordeaux, Vendome and a Stateside slot at New Directors/New Films. With a small-scale local release courtesy of Ad Vitam, the film looks to do modest numbers, while overseas bids in Francophone territories and scattered niche markets should seal Letourneur’s reputation as a filmmaker to watch.

Indeed, after her well-received 2010 debut La Vie au ranch and a much-lauded 2011 short Le Marin masqué (which serves as a catalyst for both the narrative structure and plot of Les Coquillettes), the 34-year-old director has started to make (new) waves both at home and abroad, offering up a welcome comic alternative to the spastic Boulevard farces or self-serious Parisian gab-fests that typically grace Gallic screens.

And although her work could perhaps be associated with the latter trend, there’s something much more promising at play in Letourneur’s seemingly improvised yet intricately written dramedies. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Eric Rohmer, John Cassevettes and Hong Sang-soo, yet managing to find her own voice, she has a real knack for depicting the je ne sais quoi adventures of French chicks getting off on their friendships, while never quite getting it on with their male counterparts.

This is definitely the case for the trio in Les Coquillettes – Sophie (Letourneur), Camille (production assistant Camille Genaud) and Carole (editor Carole Le Page) -- who head to Locarno to present Sophie’s latest short, hoping to bag a few boys in the process (including art film heartthrob Louis Garrel). Instead, Camille gets simultaneously hit on and dissed by fest dandy Martin (Libération critic Julien Gester), while Carole slowly strays from her stay-home b.f. into the arms of the stoic and smartly dressed Luigi (Cahiers du Cinéma critic Eugenio Renzi).

That’s about as far as the plot goes, but very much like an episode of Girls, Letourneur is more interested in the what than the how, focusing on the camaraderie, petty fights and underlining malaise of her tipsy heroines, while aptly capturing the semi-artsy, semi-seedy atmosphere of many an international film festival. The insider’s aspect of such a setting will definitely irk some viewers -- this is the only movie in memory where one can stop and say, “Look, there’s Mark Peranson!” -- but it’s less about showing off here than about revealing the off-kilter world against which Sophie and co. are obliged to test their womanhood.

Despite a whiplash production, HD cinematography by Antoine Parouty (The Invisibles) does a good job with all the Eurotrash clubs and Lake Maggiore backdrops, yet never loses sight of the convincing performances at the film’s core. And although everyone on screen is more or less an amateur, the collection of fumbling and slightly self-aware turns always feels natural, with Letourneur’s sharp dialogs oscillating between borderline tedious and outright hilarious.

The French title refers to the macaroni that the girls live off of both during and after the fest -- where an evening get-together becomes at once the framing device for the story and a clever meditation on the subjective nature of experience, especially when said experience is enhanced by wine, cocktails and large quantities of beer.

Production companies: Ecce Films, Rezina Productions, Ad Vitam

Cast: Camille Genaud, Sophie Letourneur, Carole Le Page, Julien Gester, Eugenio Renzi

Director, screenwriter: Sophie Letourneur

Producer: Emmanuel Chaumet

Director of photography: Antoine Parouty

Editor: Jean-Christophe Hym

Sales: Ecce Films

No rating, 74 minutes