Even before she made “Europa, Europa,” Polish exile Agnieszka Holland had read a French newspaper story that inspired her to make “Olivier, Olivier,” a seemingly simple but intriguing and ultimately powerful film about a provincial family. Very good international art-house prospects loom for this one.
Early scenes establish the nuclear family consisting of father (Francois Cluzet), a country veterinarian, mother (Brigitte Rouan) and their two children, Nadine and her younger, 9-year-old brother, Olivier. The mother dotes on her son , making his sister at times jealous, yet there’s a close bond between the siblings.
One summer day, Olivier sets off on his bicycle to deliver food to his sick grandmother and doesn’t return. Police, led by Druot (Jean-Francois Stevenin), are baffled; the parents are distraught. Months go by, and eventually the marriage breaks up under the strain; the husband leaves to work in North Africa.
Six years later, in Paris, Druot encounters a 15-year-old male prostitute who fits the description of the missing Olivier. Under questioning, the youth seems to confirm his identity. He is reunited with his mother and sister, and soon his father returns from abroad.
The family is together again, yet Nadine remains unconvinced that this youth really is her brother, especially when a sexual relationship develops between them. A final revelation adds a powerful sting to the tale.
Working on a more restricted canvas than in her recent, large-scale films, though still dealing with real-life stories, Holland does some of her best work to date here. The film is not as simple as it seems, and is filled with ambiguities and insight into family relationships.
Thesping is first-rate down the line, with Brigitte Rouan exceptional as the distraught mother who accepts a young stranger as her long-lost son.
Technically tops in every department.