French filmmaker Siegrid Alnoy graduates from shorts to features with “Elle est des notres,” an intensely somber study of alienation revolving around a seemingly functional woman who commits a stunning act of violence. While the director’s penchant for extended silences and stagy character positioning make it all seem rather studied, the drama nonetheless is compellingly unsettling and should continue to secure festival bookings. Pic was given the ill-fitting English title “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” on prints shown in Cannes, instead of the more logical and literal “She’s One of Us.”
Bleakly set on the industrialized outskirts of provincial Annecy, the film centers on 35-year-old Christine (Sasha Andres), whose relationships are as polite and impersonal as her transient office temp job would suggest. Seemingly longing to make deeper connections, she tries unsuccessfully to engage her work colleagues in conversation but appears to be borderline invisible. No more warmth is provided by her weekly visits to her parents, whom Christine keeps in the dark about her empty personal life.
During a window created by a moment of vulnerability from Patricia (Catherine Mouchet), her employer at the temping firm, Christine invites the woman to dinner, busily fabricating a hobby to give them something in common. While Christine tries too hard at the friendship, appearing eager to the point of scary desperation, Patricia reciprocates.
But Christine’s emotional isolation has left her unprepared for normal interaction. Shaken up by an incident at the local swimming pool, she responds by crushing Patricia’s skull with a fire extinguisher.
Given that this type of scenario about a disenfranchised social misfit driven to senseless violence usually depicts a man, Alnoy’s distaff take has some original kinks, though it tends increasingly toward overload as the drama develops.
While she’s outwardly unchanged, Christine’s life takes a sudden upturn after the killing. She passes her driving test after several unsuccessful tries in the past, is embraced as a friend by colleagues at a road transport office and is offered a permanent job there, soon after embarking on a live-in relationship with fellow worker Eric (Eric Caravaca).
These changes are conveyed in a dreamlike way, indicating Christine’s perception that they are not quite real. Ripples start intruding on her new life, however, when police turn up to investigate Patricia’s murder, and when an inspector (Carlo Brandt) and a junior office temp much like herself (Pierre-Felix Graviere), reveal an intuitive grasp and a kinship with Christine’s solitude.
The characters’ awkward, staring silences seem affected and theatrical, but performances are strong, especially Andres’ penetrating mix of aloneness and resentment.
Shooting the drama in cold, clinical tones and laying the action on the chilly foundation of composer Gabriel Scotti’s droning electronic score, Alnoy builds a strong sense of foreboding both before and after the killing.