Youth (Jeunesse): Film Review

A detached autobiographical tale that never blossoms into real drama.

Louis Malle's daughter presents a fictional account of her father's untimely death, starring Esther Garrel and Didier Bezace.

PARIS -- A tender yet extremely slight portrait of a young woman who comes of age just as her father prematurely passes away, writer-director Justine Malle’s Youth (Jeunesse) never manages to bloom into a full-fledged feature, even if it provides some insights into its complex and immensely talented paterfamilias: the late, great French director Louis Malle (My Dinner with Andre, Au Revoir Les Enfants). Released on just a few screens in France, the film should continue its fest run after stints at Rome, Seattle and San Francisco but won’t travel far from home for theatrical play.

20-year-old Juliette (Esther Garrel, daughter of Philippe Garrel) is caught in the usual college woes, trying to maintain good grades while falling for a selfish intellectual (Emile Bertherat, LOL) more interested in friendship than frolicking.

But when her dad (Didier Bezace, L. 627) -- who has already divorced Justine’s mother (Christele Tual, The Man Who Laughs) and married his third wife (Lucia Sanchez, Sitcom) -- is diagnosed with a degenerative terminal disease (Malle himself died of Lymphoma in 1995), she’s obliged to divide her time between Paris and a country home in southern France, where the once hyperactive filmmaker slowly and sadly demises.

Yet despite what should be a captivating autobiographical account, Malle remains mostly at arm’s length from her subjects, filming the drama with a detached air that keeps emotions at bay and never penetrates into the heart of the matter. We learn little about Juliette beyond the fact that she’s a somewhat average girl with a famous dad. And Garrel’s rather comatose performance doesn’t make her any more compelling, even if Malle shows much empathy for the naive teenager she once was.

More intriguing, if only intermittently, is Bezace’s depiction of a prolific artist at the end of his tether -- a man who seemed to move ahead at his own frenetic pace while his family and the Parisian intelligentsia straggled behind. But Malle père unfortunately fades away before we can ever really get to know him, and only a clip from his TV documentary series L’Inde fantome provides a brief glimpse into his impressive and heterogeneous oeuvre.

Shot in unadorned HD that tends to flatten out many of the backgrounds, Youth ultimately plays out like an extended student film (the action clocks in at 74 minutes without end credits) instead of a stand-alone feature. As much as its maker is personally tied to all the characters, her hands-off, dispassionate style makes them feel like they're drawn from another life than her own.


Production companies: Tupelo Films

Cast: Esther Garrel, Didier Bezace, Emile Bertherat, Lucia Sanchez

Director: Justine Malle

Screenwriters: Justine Malle, Cecile Vargaftig

Producer: Justine Malle

Executive producer: Remi Pradinas

Director of photography: Nicolas Pernot

Editor: Olivier Ferrari

Sales Agent: Pyramide International

No rating, 74 minutes