Lulu in the Nude (Lulu Femme Nue): Film Review

Quiet charmer avoids many pitfalls of the female-bonding film.

Solveig Anspach adapts a French graphic novel about a runaway housewife.

REYKJAVIK — A housewife's unexpected abandonment of her life leads to connections with other emotionally isolated women in Lulu in the Nude, Solveig Anspach's adaptation of a graphic novel by Etienne Davodeau. Its themes of sisterhood and self-discovery may be familiar, but the French film's initial emphasis on down-and-out realism sets it apart; as it grows more upbeat in its second and third acts, only a couple of scenes resort to the kind of button-pushing one expects in post–Thelma & Louise female-bonding pictures. Stateside art house prospects are respectable despite the absence of high-profile faces.

Karin Viard plays Lulu, a timid woman who strikes out when she ventures from her small French town into a nearby city to find a job. "Next time, make an effort," her interviewer condescendingly suggests, referring to her frumpy outfit and not understanding just what an effort the trip has been.

Dreading the shame she'll feel upon returning to a husband who didn't think she should look for work in the first place, Lulu "misses" her train home and basks in the modest pleasures of staying alone in a hotel. When, in a somewhat passive stab at autonomy, she extends her stay, her husband shuts off her bank card and Lulu finds herself homeless in a strange town.

Viard is unusually well suited for the fits-and-starts way Lulu then begins to find a bolder version of herself -- first in an unlikely romance with Charles (Bouli Lanners), a charmer whose tramplike existence represents a temporary Eden; then with Marthe (Claude Gensac), an elderly woman who accepts Lulu in her lowest moment and becomes her best friend. Both relationships are presented as refuges too good to leave, but Anspach's film always acknowledges what is left behind in ways that make a return inevitable.

That inevitability ensures that much of the film's sympathy will go to Charles, who is coming out of a different kind of imprisonment himself and, with two kooky brothers looking out for him, asks so little of the world that it's impossible not to hope he can have it. Lanners meets Viard's hesitancy with tenacious but unpushy optimism, a spirit the film is determined to retain in Lulu's new, improved world.

Production Company: Arturo Mio

Cast: Karin Viard, Bouli Lanners, Claude Gensac, Pascal Demolon, Philippe Rebbot, Marie Payen, Solene Rigot, Nina Meurisse, Corinne Masiero

Director: Solveig Anspach

Screenwriters: Solveig Anspach, Jean-Luc Gaget

Producers: Jean Labadie, Caroline Roussel

Director of photography: Isabelle Razavet

Production designer: Stephane Levy

Music: Martin Wheeler

Costume designer: Marie Le Garrec

Editor: Anne Riegel

No rating, 89 minutes