Review: ‘Miss Montigny’

A minor-key Euro variation on Michael Ritchie's 1975 social comedy "Smile," "Miss Montigny" falls somewhere between Ken Loach and "The Full Monty" in its evocation of a small-town beauty pageant in rural Belgium. Well-crafted but in the end too modest to quicken the pulse, item is a fine, if subdued, fest entry that won't walk the runway much beyond its November domestic bow and other French-lingo territories.

A minor-key Euro variation on Michael Ritchie’s 1975 social comedy “Smile,” “Miss Montigny” falls somewhere between Ken Loach and “The Full Monty” in its evocation of a small-town beauty pageant in rural Belgium. Well-crafted but in the end too modest to quicken the pulse, item is a fine, if subdued, fest entry that won’t walk the runway much beyond its November domestic bow and other French-lingo territories.

Well south of Brussels is Montigny, a former coal town that hasn’t seen heavy industry in nearly two decades. Nineteen-year-old Sandrine (Sophie Quinton) works hustling Camembert in the local supermarket by day, but dreams of opening her own beauty parlor, and moonlights in one with best friend and supposed future business partner Gianna (Fanny Hanciaux).

Sandrine lives with her bickering parents, out-of-work dad (Johan Leysen) and mom Anna (Ariane Ascaride). At wits’ end when b.f. Paolo (Yannick Renier) leaves to find work in Brussels and Anna is unsuccessful in obtaining a business loan for the parlor she was set to open in an abandoned butcher shop, Sandrine enters a small-time beauty pageant at her mother’s urging.

In short order, things become complicated: the guy running the event is an oddball, Sandrine discovers her father in flagrante with Gianna’s mom, Anna begins to crumble under the pressure and Paolo won’t take no for an answer. Eligibility scandals and a competitor’s boob job further threaten her quest.

Vet Belgian documaker Miel van Hoogenbemt brings the same verite aesthetic to his frosh stab at fiction, but can’t ignite Gabrielle Borile’s autobiographically tinged script to the slow-burn urgency of Loach or the lovable-loser warmth of “The Full Monty.”

Quinton is spunky as Sandrine but lacks the grit and fire necessary for auds to pull for her, while Ascaride comes closest to developing a character with tragic complexity.

Tech package is keyed to contrast the grayness of the surroundings with the color of the threadbare pageant, with Nigel Willoughby’s lensing, Veronique Sacrez’s art direction and in particular Magdalena Labuze’s costumes meshing well. Score is supplemented by original music from Flemish thrush Axelle Red, including a poignant number performed by Quinton.

Miss Montigny

Belgium-Luxembourg-France-U.K.

Production

A Kinepolis Film Distribution release (in Belgium) of a Sebastien Delloye presentation of an Entre Chien et Loup (Belgium), Samsa Film (Luxembourg), Kaleo Film (France), Ipso Facto Films (U.K.), Private View production. (International sales: High Point Films, London.) Produced by Sebastien Delloye, Jan Thiltges, Olivier Charvet, Christine Alderson. Directed by Miel van Hoogenbemt. Screenplay, Gabrielle Borile.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm-to-35mm), Nigel Willoughby; editor, Ludo Troch; music, Molly Nyman, Harry Escott; art director, Veronique Sacrez; costume designer, Magdalena Labuze; sound (Dolby Digital), Carlo Thoss. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Aug. 27, 2005. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Sophie Quinton, Ariane Ascaride, Johan Leysen, Yannick Renier, Fanny Hanciaux.

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