Andre Techine’s Cannes Fest opener “Ma Saison Preferee” is a dull exposition of the glacial shifts in the emotional alignments among members of a mostly dysfunctional middle-class family. Star names and director’s rep will mean more in France than offshore, where commercial outlook is negligible.
Slickly made but deliberately less stylized than most of Techine’s previous pix, this somber drama focuses on estranged siblings Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil, who are forced together during the final decline of their ailing mother (Martha Villalonga).
Broken down novelistically into four chapters, this very French story reunites middle-aged brother and sister for the first time in several years. Erratic and immature, Auteuil prefers to avoid dealing with family issues that make him uncomfortable, notably his mother’s desire to discuss her estate with her children, and he generally makes a necessarily difficult time in the brood’s life even more stressful than it should be.
In a childish fit, Auteuil strikes Deneuve’s husband (Jean-Pierre Bouvier), which manages to lead to the couple splitting. Their daughter, played by Deneuve’s real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni in her screen debut, is upset by this, while adopted son Anthony Prada is too preoccupied with his affair with Carmen Chaplin, who works for the family business, to much notice.
At this, Deneuve hits a low point, confessing, “I hate what I’ve become.” This remark has reverberations later on, when Villalonga, in a potent death speech, relates that her late husband’s overriding concern in raising their kids was for them to be “modern.”
Script’s concerns are apparent, but Techine and co-scripter Pascal Bonitzer do little to rouse viewer interest in these drab personalities.
As it is, Auteuil plays only the most unappetizing character among a thoroughly sour lot. Everyone either avoids overt emotion or reacts destructively whenever forced to confront it, and they are concerned with things on only the most superficial levels.
A rather stifling quality surrounds all the decorum and efforts to maintain a prescribed version of normal family life, and if this dissection of the Toulouse bourgeoisie means something to a French public, it doesn’t translate with any impact.
While attractive and accomplished, Techine’s mounting here is plodding, and the deliberate pacing cannot be transcended by the actors except at times.
Deneuve, Auteuil and Villalonga all have their moments, but cannot overcome the maddeningly uninsightful and selfish nature of their characters. Young Chiara Mastroianni looks more like her father, Marcello, than like her mother, and the beginnings of a private friendship subplot between her and the free-spirited young Moroccan played by Carmen Chaplin goes undeveloped.
Pic looks handsome.