Review: ‘Young Girls in Black’

Jean Paul Civeyrac, a fine French filmmaker barely known in his own country, doesn't manage to make the film that would shatter his unwarranted obscurity with "Two Girls in Black."

Jean Paul Civeyrac, a fine French filmmaker barely known in his own country, doesn’t manage to make the film that would shatter his unwarranted obscurity with “Two Girls in Black.” Pic tells the story of the suicide pact between a pair of teens that, paradoxically, gives them a reason to live, but the aftermath isn’t as engrossing as likely intended. Yet Civeyrac remains true to his brand of dreamy, interiorized drama, which will be once again embraced by his cadre of supporters at festivals. Euro distribution appears limited to French-lingo territories.

A brief prelude introduces Priscilla (Lea Tissier) cutting herself seriously enough to warrant hospitalization, a precursor of grimmer behavior a year later, when the girl is under the sway of Noemie (Elise Lhomeau). Contemptuous of everyone around her, Noemie exudes a dauntingly grave air that, under the intense gaze of Civeyrac and cinematographer Hichame Alaouie, only heightens her beauty. Classic misunderstood outsiders and misfits in their high school, the two dress in black and, during a classroom book report, announce they’ll commit suicide in the next 24 hours.

Despite her interest in soccer-playing Sam (Brice Fazekas), Priscilla appears to be attracted to Noemie in a way that stops just short of sexual. It’s reasonable to read much of the girls’ frustrations as their inability to fulfill their love for each other, and the botched suicide pact — Priscilla sadly goes through with it, but Noemie stops short — underscores that notion.

Civeyrac is a filmmaker with one foot in the contemporary world (the girls run around tagging walls and cars), yet he also encases his typically young characters in a setting and mood that can be otherworldly or mythical — whether in the classical widescreen framing of the brooding girls or a later scene of Noemie, seeming to find her proper voice, playing the flute in the school orchestra.

The film’s final third never manages to powerfully convey, however, Noemie’s loss of her friend and, in turn, her loss of a darkly tinged and unsustainable idealism. Her temporary stay in a mental hospital after the tragedy is handled matter-of-factly, and a possibly budding relationship with fellow musician Clement (Robinson Delacroix) goes nowhere in particular.

Civeyrac knows how to end his films, though, and leaves Noemie in a memorable state of suspended animation, seemingly ready to emotionally move on, yet uncertain what to do next. Scenes like these are what consistently make Civeyrac’s films marvels for the eye and ear, with masterful production in all departments. Lhomeau and Tissier dominate onscreen as an exceptionally lovely pair of faces, with Lhomeau finding greater depth in the final section. Music selections from Gluck, Brahms, Rousseau and J.S. Bach aren’t merely sonic window dressing, but inherent to the characters.

Young Girls in Black

France

Production

A Les films Pelleas presentation in co-production with Rhone-Alpes Cinema. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Philippe Martin. Executive producer, Lola Gans. Directed, written by Jean Paul Civeyrac.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Hichame Alaouie; editor, Louise Narboni; production designer, Brigitte Brassart; costume designer, Marie-Laure Pinsard; sound (Dolby Digital), Francois Mereu; supervising sound editor, Sebastien Savine; re-recording mixer, Stephane Thiebaut; casting, Sarah Teper, Leila Fournier. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 18, 2010. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Elise Lhomeau, Lea Tissier, Elise Caron, Isabelle Sadoyan, Roger Jendly, Thierry Paret, Aurore Soudieux, Youlia Zimina, Robinson Delacroix, Brice Fazekas.
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