'When Margaux Meets Margaux' ('La Belle et la belle'): Film Review

Courtesy of Claire Nicol/Christmas in July
An eccentric, femme-centric French comedy.

Sandrine Kiberlain and Agathe Bonitzer star as two versions of the same woman in the latest feature by director Sophie Fillieres ('Pardon My French').

French writer-director Sophie Fillieres has a knack for making off-kilter dramedies about women under the influence, with films such as Good Girl, Pardon My French and If You Don’t, I Will showing them in various states of hilarity, disarray and despair.

Her latest effort, When Margaux Meets Margaux (La Belle et la belle), doubles down on that premise by portraying not one but two such characters — who also happen to be the same person. If that sounds confusing, well, it sort of is, although that doesn’t stop this surreal two-hander from exuding its charms, with the winning duo of Sandrine Kiberlain and Agathe Bonitzer playing a woman at two stages in her life: one as she enters adulthood, the other as she reaches middle age. The allure fades a bit in the second half, but Fillieres still manages to dig intriguingly into the female psyche, in a film that could see some pickups abroad after a March release in Gaul.

When we first meet 20-year-old Margaux (Bonitzer), she’s skirting through a dead-end job and relationship while trying to finish her Masters’ degree. At a party one night in Paris, she runs into 45-year-old Margaux (Kiberlain), who, without any clear explanation — there’s no hot tub time machine or 1.21 Gigawatts here — turns out to be herself as well. The encounter creeps Margaux 1 out, while Margaux 2 seems both amused and emboldened by the possibility to relive her youth again, offering her predecessor advice on how to avoid making the same mistakes that she did.

Fillieres never tries to justify what’s happening, with her heroines expressing a very je ne sais quoi attitude toward this sudden rip in the space-time continuum. Rather, the film focuses on how les deux Margaux can use the event to better themselves in the eternal present — “I must absolutely change my life,” the younger Margaux texts at one point — as they both indulge in an affair with the same lucky man, Marc, (Melvil Poupaud), who they intermittently shack up with in his bachelor pad down in Lyon.

If they share a guy and a soul, the two women have some notable differences. In her younger incarnation, Margaux seems lost and rather self-destructive — traits that perfectly suit an actress like Bonitzer (the daughter of Fillieres and director Pascal Bonitzer), who rarely cracks a smile onscreen. In her seasoned incarnation, Margaux is much more laid-back and wise, chuckling at her earlier foibles with the knowledge that she will one day grow out of them. With her warm demeanor and sharp comic instincts, Kiberlain (9-Month Stretch) is perfect for the part, playing a woman who’s given the chance to relive pivotal moments of her life with no apparent side effects.

Things do, however, come to a head at one point, although Fillieres has a hard time upping the stakes in the film’s closing sections, which lose momentum while working their way to what feels like an all-too convenient conclusion. Yet as a story about growing up twice, Margaux comes across as one of her more sincere works to date, turning a Bunuel-esque situation into a clever meditation on womanhood at different stages and phases.

Alongside the two strong leads, Poupaud plays Marc — an ex-boyfriend who pops back into the picture and stays there — with the right combination of confusion and seduction, going with the flow even if his character doesn’t entirely understand what’s going on. Tech credits makes strong use of the Paris and Lyon locations, with a late stopover in the Alps that beautifully captures how the same person can experience a ski trip with either pleasure or dread. The score by Kasper Winding is way too present and cloying, undermining the film's more avant-garde ambitions.

Production companies: Christmas in July, France 3 Cinema, Auvergne-Rhones-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Agathe Bonitzer, Melvil Poupaud, Lucie Desclozeaux, Laurent Bateau
Director-screenwriter: Sophie Fillieres
Producer: Julie Salvador
Director of photography: Emmanuelle Collinot
Production designer: Emmanuel de Chauvigny
Costume designer: Carole Gerard
Editor: Valerie Loiseleux
Composer: Kasper Winding
Casting director: Constance Demontoy
Sales: Indie Sales Company

In French
96 minutes