Film Review: 'Les Coquillettes'

Another feisty and feminine take on contempo life from star-scribe-helmer Sophie Letourneur

Three Gallic gal pals try to get their share of sex and cinema, in that order, at the Locarno Film Festival in “Les Coquillettes,” another feisty and feminine take on contempo life from star-scribe-helmer Sophie Letourneur. As in the French multihyphenate’s “Chicks,” humor, atmosphere and informal dialogue carry the day, though the result is altogether more considered and technically smoother than that similarly low-budget debut feature. Young-filmmaker showcases, such as Gotham’s New Directors/New Films, have already started to spotlight this emerging talent, who is being touted as Gaul’s answer to Lena Dunham.

The cleanly composed, HD-shot pic will prove a fascinating experience for anyone familiar with the Locarno fest, as it was entirely filmed, practically guerrilla-style, during the 2011 edition of the event, when Letourneur attended to present her well-received medium-length feature “Le marin masque.” The director, who plays a filmmaker called Sophie in the film, not only cast herself in a semi-autobiographical role, but also recruited other attending filmmakers, actors and (the horror, the horror!) even film critics to play different roles. But despite the insider-y casting, “Les Coquillettes” never comes off as an elaborate in-joke; instead it feels like a sincere attempt to convey what the very particular rush of a film festival, rarely seen onscreen, can feel like from inside the bubble.

The is framed by a Paris-set, late-night conversation in which Sophie and her two girlfriends — raven-haired Carole (Carole Le Page, the real-life editor of “Le marin masque”) and blonde Camille (“Marin” PA Camille Genaud) — reminisce about their visit to Locarno, adding another layer of chatter to the proceedings that further suggests how fest exploits can morph into altogether different creatures over time, depending on who’s doing the talking. And as befits their status as thoroughly contempo girls, their chatter is littered with verbal and visual references to Facebook and Twitter.

The flashbacks to the Swiss sprocket opera, prompted by their conversation, constitute the bulk of this slender, 75-minute film, and each of the girls has a different, male-oriented goal during the fest. Sophie wants to meet actor Louis Garrel, with whom she’s madly in love, though she only met him once; Camille is into the hard-to-read Martin (Julien Gester, a critic for Liberation); and Carole just wants to be kissed, and possibly get laid, which seems in the offing when she meets a hunky Italian (Eugenio Renzi, a former Cahiers du Cinema writer).

Their lighthearted amorous adventures not only are honest and often chuckle-inducing, but also accurately reflect the hotbed atmosphere of a festival, where people are far from home and the nightly parties and free booze serve to lubricate conversation and potentially more. And, of course, chatting with girlfriends about sex often proves to be more fun than the actual act of getting down with the men.

Whereas “Chicks” was an Altmanesque labyrinth of superimposed, inebriated conversations set among a large crowd of university students, “Les Coquillettes” feels more straightforward and focused. The film is anchored in a recognizable (if often parallel-seeming) reality, even as it clearly adopts the movie convention of letting one person speak at a time in re-recorded, isolated audio, facilitating audience identification and comprehension. Impressively, though she’s moved into much more traditional territory from a technical standpoint, Letourneur’s own distinct voice as a filmmaker remains practically unaltered.

With the exceptions of thesp Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as a sex fiend and Garrel in a cameo, the cast consists entirely of affable and generally convincing non-pro actors, even though it’ll be hard for fest regulars to get over the familiar faces of critics, press reps and even then-Locarno topper Olivier Pere. The title literally references the small, elbow-shaped pasta the girls prep in their flat — no champagne and caviar for these fest animals — but also suggests that the girls are naughty, mischievous “coquines.”

Les Coquillettes
(France)

Reviewed at MK2 Quai de Seine, Paris, March 27, 2013. (In New Directors/New Films; 2012 Locarno Film Festival.) Running time: 75 MIN.

An Ad Vitam release of an Ecce Films production, in association with Rezina Prods., Ad Vitam. Produced by Emmanuel Chaumet. Co-producer, Bernard Tanguy.

Directed, written by Sophie Letourner. Camera (color, HD), Antoine Parouty; editor, Jean-Christophe Hym; sound (Dolby SRD), Pascal Ribier.

Cast: Camille Genaud, Sophie Letourneur, Carole Le Page, Julien Gester, Eugenio Renzi, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Louis Garrel, Christophe Gougeon, Isabelle Regnier, Yann Lequellec, Camille Rutherford, Lolita Chammah, Olivier Pere.
(French, English, Italian dialogue)

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