Martin Provost's amiable dramatic comedy, "Song From Within," sets a young, determined and very pregnant Juliette against her dotty mother, her managing sister and her indecisive boyfriend. Elements fail to fully mesh and pic's mystical view of pregnancy could read as pro-life. Extremely likeable, pic could attract American auds.

Taking full advantage of a dynamite cast, Martin Provost’s amiable dramatic comedy, “Song From Within,” sets a young, determined and very pregnant Juliette (Julie-Marie Parmentier) against her dotty mother (Carmen Maura), her managing sister (Nathalie Richard) and her indecisive boyfriend (Stephane Rideau). Elements fail to fully mesh and pic’s mystical view of pregnancy could read as pro-life. Nevertheless, action advances breezily, swept along by enthusiastic thesping (Richard’s madly inventive perf as a hysterically “normal” housewife is priceless) and vibrating with the light-filled energy of Marseille. Extremely likeable, pic, which opened in France in January, possesses a genuine sweetness that could attract American auds.

Juliette’s pregnancy brings out everyone else’s fears. Boyfriend Mathias, caught up in rebelling against his own father and the family’s asparagus farm, can’t figure out his relationship to this parenthood.

Juliette’s mother, a former child star in Argentina, doesn’t want Juliette to flee the nest, having formed a comfortable menage a deux with her daughter in their genteelly failing “Sombreros et Mantillas” boutique. When Juliette leaves the house for any length of time, mother ventures out dressed like Goldilocks (her most famous role) to lift wallets.

Lastly, older sister Fafa, for reasons known only to the scriptwriter, desperately tries to marry Juliette off, she and her hubby (a proudly henpecked Patrick Chenais) serving up a sorry lot of prospects in awkward dinner settings.

Helmer Provost layers his drama with all manner of present and absent parents. Film opens with a mini-Annunciation: Wavy, distorted shots of an approach to Earth are intercut with Juliette and Mathias’ propagational lovemaking. Juliette finds support and solace in an odd, enigmatic friendship with a man old enough to be her father (Tom Novembre), while Mathias’s downstairs neighbor (Ariane Ascaride), a massage therapist, acts as both caressing shrink to Mathias and makeshift midwife to Juliette.

Though Juliette and her insistent belly plow through the film, changing all before them (and the stubborn, impetuous Juliette in the process), pic sometimes lacks the very organic development that it attempts to celebrate. Thus Carmen Maura’s Goldilocks persona and attendant undistinguished clips of the ersatz Argentinean classic only serve as a colorful, bathetic note to her crazy mom portrayal, never symbolically hooking back to the rest of the plot.

Provost has borrowed the notion of a working-class neighborhood as extended family from Marseille’s favorite cinematic son, Robert Guediguian. (Provost’s casting of Ascaride, Guediguian’s wife/lead actress, greatly adds to the local color as well as serving as a tip of the hat to the maestro.)

Tech credits are first-rate. Jean-Claude Larrieu’s limpid super-16mm lensing makes the most of the contrast between semi-claustrophobic interiors, winding streets and sudden openings onto the sea.

Song From Within

France

Production

An Alta Loma Films/Les Prods. Bagheera production. Produced by Didier Boujard, Francois Marquis. Directed by Martin Provost. Screenplay, Provost, Philippe Lasry, Marc Abdelnour.

Crew

Camera (color, super 16mm-to-35mm), Jean-Claude Larrieu; editor, Christophe Pinel; music, Edith Baudrand; production designer, Valerie Saradjian; costume designer, Madeleine Fontaine; casting, Antoine Carrard. Reviewed at Avignon/N.Y. Film Festival, April 5, 2003. Running time: 96 MIN.

Cast

With: Julie-Marie Parmentier, Stephane Rideau, Carmen Maura, Nathalie Richard, Ariane Ascaride, Patrick Chenais, Tom Novembre.
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