A mentally fragile woman and her older sister bond after the death of their mother in French helmer Fabienne Berthaud’s cloying drama “Lily Sometimes.” Irksomely touting the tired notion that simple people teach us how to be our true selves, the pic rings gratingly false. Still, the casting of popular thesps Ludivine Sagnier and Diane Kruger as the siblings, and kudos including the Directors’ Fortnight’s Art Cinema Award, could signal further fest travel as well as modest domestic play before ancillary.
At her family’s isolated country house, uninhibited Lily (Sagnier, nearly unrecognizable in a showy but decidedly unglamorous perf) lives according to her whims and appetites. A walking catalogue of inappropriate behaviors, she wanders the forests and grassy lanes in flimsy nightgowns and skimpy pinafores that barely cover her, and habitually speaks home truths better left unsaid.
Lily’s eccentric hobby of crafting slippers, key chains and jewelry from the fur of dead varmints becomes an ongoing joke that the script and visuals milk far beyond its modest amusement value. Likewise, the depiction of Lily as a kind of holy fool at one with nature goes over the top; Sagnier deserves a special award for being willing to wear a squid on her head, let ants crawl on her face, and cover herself with slugs.
In contrast to uncontrollable Lily, prim older sis Claire (Kruger, the star and co-producer of Berthaud’s feature debut “Frankie”) has worked to satisfy parental expectations. Forced into the role of perfect child, she’s gone to law school and married a busy attorney (Denis Menochet) in whose office she labors; yet it’s only Lily who perceives Claire’s not really happy.
Adapting her own novel with co-writer Pascal Arnold (writing partner of Jean-Marc Barr), helmer Berthaud challenges viewer expectations with incident as well as character. When local boys take Lily into an abandoned bus to have sex, it’s not a gang bang, it’s Lily getting pleasure from giving pleasure. Likewise, when three rough-looking men in a van turn up at the sisters’ home, what in other hands would be the darkly realistic turning point of the story becomes yet another implausible turn on the way to a ludicrous finale.
Lenser Nathalie Durand supplies golden-hued, impressionistic visuals of the bucolic scenery, while rapid cutting by Pierre Haberer heightens the sunnily dreamy tone. Shifts in costume and hairstyle signify a transformation for Claire that the script fails to make credible.