“Ma Vie en rose” explores a young boy’s gender confusion and its repercussions on his family with a sure hand and a bright eye. Director and co-scripter Alain Berliner’s audacious take on nature vs. nurture melds outstanding central perfs and deceptively jaunty production design to yield an entertaining and thought-provoking debut effort with near-universal emotional resonance. Helmer, scripter and producer can trade in their rose-colored glasses for real shades, as this pic’s future in European and offshore arthouses looks mighty bright.
Pierre (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) and Hanna (Michele Laroque) celebrate their arrival in a manicured Paris suburb with a housewarming lawn party at which their 7-year-old son, Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne), appears before the guests dressed as a fairy princess.
The couple, who have two other sons and an adolescent daughter, assume that Ludo, with his Prince Valiant helmet of hair and his attachment to dolls and girlish finery, is going through a phase. But Ludo speaks with matter-of-fact certainty of marrying their neighbor’s son, Jerome, when he grows up.
Jerome, whose father is Pierre’s boss, sees nothing wrong with this plan and even participates in a mock wedding ceremony. But Jerome’s horrified parents assure him he’ll go to hell if he continues to play with Ludo.
Pic skillfully navigates between a child’s well-meaning actions and the mild-to-major shock waves that radiate toward his classmates, parents and neighbors. The candy-colored community, so welcoming on the surface, turns out to be full of easily spooked hypocrites bent on the narrowest definition of acceptable behavior. Sensitive, imaginative and too young to understand why his heartfelt aspirations create an uproar, Ludo innocently provokes a series of incidents that lead to ostracism of his family.
Lensing — which favors shots from on high — effectively draws viewers into Ludovic’s p.o.v., translating his joys as well as his guilt and discomfort as adults try to impress upon him that he’s not going to be a girl when he grows up. Ludo’s devotion to a Barbie-like doll called Pam, whose ideal fantasy world occupies his daydreams, is amplified via nifty effects work, as is the boy’s rather original interpretation of what might have gone wrong when God was passing out chromosomes.
Precocious tomboys turn up every so often in the movies, but “Ma Vie” tackles the far rarer concept of a young male child who feels he should be allowed to dress and behave as a girl. Crucial to pic’s impact is an utterly convincing job by tyke thesp Du Fresne, who renders Ludo’s search for acceptance poignant and compelling.
Laroque — one of the most versatile comediennes in France today — is finesse incarnate in her portrayal of maternal love mixed with dismay. She expertly conveys a wife and mother’s growing fear of what lies ahead for her son if she or her increasingly beleaguered husband should fumble in handling the thorniest problem they’ve ever faced.
Supporting cast, including lots of kiddies, is fine, and use of incidental music is top-notch.
Pic is maiden feature production for indie distributor Haut & Court, currently co-producing with Franco-German cultural web Arte a series of pics set on Dec. 31, 1999, and helmed by a global slate of young directors, including Berliner.