Brave and singular yet maddeningly laborious, Jane Birkin’s “Boxes” is a fanciful talkfest brimming with sometimes pointed and sometimes flat-out embarrassing pronouncements about love, death, devotion, betrayal and regret. Valiant but clunky ensembler doesn’t know whether it’s a movie, play or collection of short stories. But intricate and free-wheeling meditation on the ties that bind is 100% Birkin, with a drool-worthy cross-cultural cast holding forth in French and English. Local reception will be warm with offshore prospects anybody’s guess.
While she’s bursting with ideas, scripter-helmer-star has a tin ear for dialogue. Even Birkin herself can’t deliver all of her lines convincingly, although the emotions they’re meant to convey are raw and promising.
Set in a rambling house in Brittany, leap of faith into the religion of family starts with appealing, ever-questioning Anna (Birkin) embracing her beloved dead father’s (Michel Piccoli) inert body while articulating the depth of her love.
But dad is soon up and about, for this is a house where the dead and otherwise departed materialize and utter lengthy passages from the script. Impetus for what will become a very crowded landscape is the title containers, whose contents spark Anna’s memories as she looks back on her own youth and fertile adulthood from the daunting vantage of menopause.
Although Anna is rarely seen actually unpacking, it’s implied that the cast mentally exits certain of those boxes much as a genie is freed from a lamp. Birkin’s exploration of what to do with one’s memories of the dead or discarded is charming in it’s way but formless.
Anna (like Birkin) has three daughters by three different fathers. Fanny (Natacha Regnier) barely knew her dad (John Hurt); Camille’s (Birkin’s real-life daughter Lou Doillon) father, Max (Maurice Benichou), is dead; and Jean (Tcheky Karyo), father to young Lilly (Adele Exarchopoulos), left after seven years to womanize elsewhere.
Anna’s delectably opinionated mother (Geraldine Chaplin) is on the premises, along with some never fully explained elderly folks: Josephine (gravel-voiced vet Annie Girardot), who is convinced there are Belgians in the cupboard; Mme Martin (Diana Payne-Meyers), a diaper-wearing sprite one wouldn’t mind a little more of; and Old Widower (Jacques Baratier).
The spacious manse is on lovely grounds, where various pairings and larger combos of living and dead can chat by a tree.
Recriminations are the order of the day as the key men in Anna’s life show up at dramatic intervals.
While pic has an undeniable voyeuristic quality that may appeal to some, script is also rife with tidbits most folks would rather not know, be they autobiographical or presumably fictional.
If there’s a theme, it’s that parents — particularly mothers and daughters — never truly know their children, and vice versa.
Thesps, starting with Birkin, haven’t a shred of vanity, which is both refreshing and disconcerting.
Chaplin is the cast member who most seamlessly inhabits her lines in both languages. Karyo, Hurt and Benichou come closest to being characters rather than actors acting.