Review: ‘Villa Amalia’

In Benoit Jacquot's latest femme-centered walkabout (after "The Disenchanted," "A Single Girl," "A toute de suite"), an intransigent Isabelle Huppert ruthlessly, methodically severs all ties to career, home and lover and takes off for parts unknown.

In Benoit Jacquot’s latest femme-centered walkabout (after “The Disenchanted,” “A Single Girl,” “A toute de suite”), an intransigent Isabelle Huppert ruthlessly, methodically severs all ties to career, home and lover and takes off for parts unknown. Huppert’s cold unreadability, her body driven forward by unseen demons, finds a disconcerting, off-kilter complement in Luc Barnier’s discordant editing, both smoothing out imperceptibly under the Neapolitan sun. Pic, which finds helmer and thesp in top form, should please local aficionados upon its April 8 release in Gaul, but offers neither humanistic empathy nor enough creepy psychological dysfunction to attract American arthouse auds.

From the opening rain-swept scene, in which a distraught woman, Ann (Huppert), follows her longtime b.f. Thomas (writer-director Xavier Beauvois) to his mistress’ house, actress and camera coexist in urgent lockstep. Ann’s refusal to process her lover’s betrayal radically disconnects her from any sense of continuum, her jerky, determined movements mirrored by disruptive closeups, and gaps in time and space open up between scenes as every action fades to black.

Ann discards all vestiges of her successful career as a composer/pianist — walking out in the middle of a concert, burning her sheet music and celebrated CDs. She sells her austerely luxurious Paris apartment and disposes of everything in it, turns off her phone, closes out her accounts and disappears, the camera recording every painstaking phase of the unexpectedly hard work involved. The only link she retains to her past is a long-lost childhood friend (Jean-Hugues Anglade), whom she unexpectedly runs into on the night she discovers her b.f.’s infidelity.

Once on the road (or rather, on the rails), Ann further erases traces of her peripatetic passage, like a chameleon shedding clothes, looks and languages according to the changing countryside and climate — a compulsion for identity evasion that begins to feel endemic (her stage name was “Ann Hidden”).

She eventually settles in a small villa perched atop a hill on an island off the coast of Naples, where, after a few harrowing experiences, she is granted a measure of peace. Scrambling up the steep Italian mountain toward epiphany, she recalls Ingrid Bergman in Rossellini’s “Stromboli.”

Caroline Champetier’s lensing follows the pic’s arc from the cold, gray north, where black seems but one grade lower on the spectrum, to the misty luminosity of the isles. Score by Bruno Coulais (including ersatz “Ann Hidden” compositions) impresses.

Villa Amalia



A Rectangle Prods./EuropaCorp presentation of a Rectangle production, in co-production with EuropaCorp, Point Prod., France 2 Cinema, La Television Suisse Romande, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinecinema, France 3, in association with Cinemage 3, Sofica Europacorp, with the participation of Le Centre National de la Cinematographie and the support of La Region Ile-de-France. (International sales: EuropaCorp, Paris.) Produced by Edouard Weil. Co-producer, Jean-Marc Frohle. Directed by Benoit Jacquot. Screenplay, Jacquot, Julien Boivent, based on the novel by Pascal Quignard.


Camera (color, widescreen), Caroline Champetier; editor, Luc Barnier; music Bruno Coulais; production design, Katia Wyszkop; costumes, Nathalie Lecoultre; sound (Dolby Digital), Henri Maikoff, Francois Musy, Gabriel Hafner. Reviewed at Walter Reade Theater, New York, Feb. 24, 2009. (In Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, New York; Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 94 MIN.


Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Xavier Beauvois, Maya Sansa, Clara Bindi. (French, German, Italian dialogue)
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