Three quirky parallel universes are intercut but never meet in the trippy triptych “Modern Life.” After having burst on the scene with “There’s Nothing Remarkable About Normal People” in 1993, scripter-helmer Laurence Ferreira Barbosa continues her sure-handed mission to champion the yearnings and foibles of ordinary, slightly lonely people. Like a sketch artist with a sense of humor, and enormous affection for slightly neurotic urbanites a few degrees out of synch with their surroundings, Ferreira Barbosa creates characters who are vivid, melancholy and inadvertently funny. Fest berths look likely.
Armored in baby fat and insolence, 17-year-old Marguerite (Lolita Chammah) feels persecuted at home and awkward at school. Her monologues with God aren’t much help when she tries to nurture friendships with a female gymnast and a male neighbor. Impetuous and introspective at the same time, Marguerite reaches the mystical conclusion she belongs in a convent.
Antsy, vaguely dissatisfied Claire (Isabelle Huppert) is bored after 10 years of a childless marriage with Georges (Aurelien Recoing). On a trip to Paris to see a fertility doctor, Claire visits a former lover whom she says she “can’t remember” ever having slept with, allows herself to be picked up by a Hispanic fellow in a bar and has a baroque encounter in a luxury hotel with an American singer she’s always admired (well-played by late Yank helmer Robert Kramer).
Jacques (Frederic Pierrot), whose wife has left him and whose daughter doesn’t want to see him, seeks work; his morose inconclusive interview with a personnel director is one of pic’s offbeat highlights. After meeting a mysterious and beautiful woman named Eva (Juliette Andrea), he soon finds himself posing as a gumshoe, trying to track down her missing friend.
There is no overlap between the three stories, and no gradually revealed connection between Marguerite, Claire and Jacques, except ever so fleetingly in a bittersweet final scene that underscores pic’s title. Instead, Ferreira Barbosa simply shuffles back and forth between the three stories instead of using clear-cut, consecutive chapters.
Thesps are enjoyable, with special praise for Huppert and (her real-life daughter) Chammah, who lend complete authority to their respective adventures. With its more slapstick tone, the Jacques episode is less successful. But if “Modern Life” is the big city in a nutshell, helmer has picked three of the tastiest nuts in the candy dish to crack.