Graced with a multifaceted, charming lead perf by newcomer Marie Kremer as a compassionate 17-year-old in search of her mother and herself, "I Always Wanted to Be a Saint" is a deft blend of hard-knocks drama and the gentle, comedic angst of adolescence.

Graced with a multifaceted, charming lead perf by newcomer Marie Kremer as a compassionate 17-year-old in search of her mother and herself, “I Always Wanted to Be a Saint” is a deft blend of hard-knocks drama and the gentle, comedic angst of adolescence. Item is a worthy addition to fest slates and has strong potential in arthouse markets, where auds will appreciate an original, non-sensational spin on the peculiar challenges of these volatile years.

The product of a broken home, Norah (Kremer) lives with her father Jean-Michel (Thierry Lefevre) and fills her days in the city with volunteer work, reading to children and delivering groceries. Her urge to “set it right” springs from irrational guilt over the race car death of childhood hero Nico Marcuse, a charismatic driver.

Norah’s latest “project” is young Magali (Marie Nypels), whose indifferent and irresponsible mother Francoise (Raphaelle Blancherie) alternates between hostility and warmth. Like many girls her age, she has a male pal, Jeremie (Julien Collard), who may or may not be more than a friend.

When her maternal grandmother shows up unannounced from Portugal with an inheritance and the momentous news Norah’s mother is alive and living in Switzerland, the teenager’s precisely organized life begins to come unglued and builds toward the inevitable voyage of discovery that will lead to the next phase in her life.

In her feature-length debut following a clutch of shorts and docus, helmer Genevieve Mersch exhibits impressive control of the ambitious material, co-written with longtime collaborator Philippe Blasband (himself the writer of Frederic Fonteyne’s “An Affair of Love” and writer-director of impressive 2002 Montreal fest competish thriller “Step by Step”).

Though spread perilously thin at points (flashbacks to Norah’s childhood suck energy from the main story), narrative benefits enormously from Kremer’s confident turn as a girl on the verge of womanhood, whose good sense is often overwhelmed by emotions. (Actress turned 20 during production.)

The deliberately anticlimactic showdown between Norah and her mother is a modest triumph of script and pacing, symbolically settling her score with Nico while underlining the cold life lesson that sometimes there are no satisfactory answers to life’s important questions.

Tech credits are fluid, particularly the entirely forged Marcuse docu material, inspiration for which is life of revered Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, killed during the Italian Grand Prix in 1994.

I Always Wanted To Be A Saint

Luxembourg-Belgium

Production

A Samsa Film (Bertrange, Luxembourg), Artemis (Brussels), Media Services, LA RTBF (Belgium) production. (International sales: Brussels Avenue, Brussels.) Produced by Claude Waringo, Patrick Quinet. Directed by Genevieve Mersch. Screenplay, Philippe Blasband, Mersch, Anne Fournier.

Crew

Camera (color), Severine Barde; editor, Ewin Rykaert; music, Principal Trade Center, Serge Tonnar; set designer, Andre Fonsny; costume designer, Fournier; sound (Dolby SR), Carlo Thoss. Reviewed at Montreal Film Festival (Cinema of Europe), Aug. 28, 2003. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Marie Kremer, Thierry Lefevre, Janine Godinas, Barbara Roland, Julien Collard, Raphaelle Blancherie, Marie Nypels.
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