Writer-director Olivier Assayas impressively sustains a highly controlled mood for more than two hours in “Une Nouvelle Vie,” but what a mood. This tale of a disenfranchised young woman trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that is her personal life is loaded with uniformly sullen characters morosely expressing nothing but ugly emotions. Well-made picture is too slow and temperamentally off-putting for offshore success.
Tina (Sophie Aubry) is a typically pouty French 20-year-old whose blank expression remains the same whether she’s having sex or working at her job in a supermarket warehouse. Living desultorily with her pathetic mother and going out with a loser b.f., Tina decides to break a lifelong taboo by seeking out her father, about whom she knows nothing.
Search initially leads to her half-sister Lise (Judith Godreche), a strange girl who’s involved in a weird S&M relationship with their father’s lawyer Constantin (Bernard Giraudeau).
Pic’s strongest scene is an initial confrontation between Tina and her powerful, piggish father (Bernard Verley), a collision of raw emotion in which he tells her she’ll never see him or Lise again, upon which she draws blood hitting him.
In the protracted course of things, matters become infinitely more complicated, as Tina’s mother dies; Constantin, who’s been dumped by both Lise and his wife, takes up with Tina and informs her he once slept with her mother; Laurence (Christine Boisson), Constantin’s lovely wife, unaccountably lets Tina’s old b.f. have his way with her, and Tina and Lise decide to work out their complicated relationship.
Basically, everyone seems to dislike everyone else, but they have a strange compulsion to automatically want to sleep with one another regardless. The characters ooze poisonous emotions, expressed in hushed, ultra-serious monotones that do not allow for the variety of moods found in real life.
Worse, all humor is banished, to the point where its rigorous exclusion seems ridiculous. Assayas’ method is most apparent in a moment in which someone tells the two sisters something that makes them laugh. However, the scene is covered from outside a window, so as to not let the viewer in on the joke.
Two of the former critic’s previous pictures, “Desordre” and “Paris s’eveille ,” were good, gritty looks at fringe youth in contempo France. This outing sees him too immersed in an unpleasant, negative mood to communicate much for an audience to grab onto. Perhaps it’s time for him to move on to a subject he can handle more objectively.
Widescreen lensing, deliberately drained of color, creates a determinedly drab environment in which the characters play out their sad, nasty-spirited games.