“Mina Tannenbaum” blends visual flair and fine female perfs in a bittersweet meller about the 25-year-long friendship between two Jewish girls in Paris. Wildly uneven but imaginatively told tale, which could rouse offshore arthouse interest, is perfect for women’s and Jewish-themed fests.
Although local crix are divided on scattershot but engaging story’s merits, the public is turning out. First feature by writer/director Martine Dugowson is lensed with brio, although most of its more flamboyant storytelling devices are lifted from other films.
People who knew painter Mina Tannenbaum (Romane Bohringer), including former best friend Ethel Benegui (Elsa Zylberstein), address the camera docu-style during the opening credits. Mina’s chic female cousin (Florence Thomassin) is the de facto narrator, who launches flashbacks that trace the girls’ intertwined destinies.
Chubby, fun-loving Ethel and myopic, sternly precocious Mina meet as youngsters, age 7, in ballet class. (Two leads as kids are wonderfully cast.) Narrative fast-forwards to age 16 — surviving first crushes and romances, and enduring tussles with their typically Jewish moms whose dialogue and mannerisms seem to have been bought in bulk at a cliche warehouse.
Art student Mina has the stubborn and impractical courage of her convictions; Ethel is more of an opportunistic chameleon. Their love/hate relationship exerts a powerful pull on their respective actions as they pursue men and happiness.
Pic nicely captures the awkwardness and unspoken rivalry between Mina and Ethel, skillfully depicting little hesitancies due to haircuts, clothes, physical attributes and so on. Ethel insinuates her way into a job at a trendy magazine, while Mina is the starving artist.
Transitions are frequently derivative. Guardian angels matted into the sky are kissin’ cousins to Woody Allen’s mammoth mom in his seg of “New York Stories.” Giant close-ups of a glowing cigarette tip as an unseen smoker inhales echo “Wild at Heart.” As adolescents, the girls’ shadow alter-egos step out of their real bodies: Ethel is gussied up as a tart in a red dress and Mina squires her in a “Yentl”-style Hassidic boy get-up.
Pic unerringly re-creates decors and garb from 1958 through 1991. Dugowson’s training as a d.p. results in assured lensing that interjects poetic license to reinforce states of mind. (When Mina and Ethel are born in 1958, nurses waltz down hospital corridors.) Exact dates of momentous events mark the passing years.
Score is pleasant and wide-ranging. Ending is very drawn out and predictable.