Produced, directed, written by Myriam Boyer. Seasoned Gallic theater, film and television actress Myriam Boyer steps behind the camera with the unrelentingly bleak period drama “Mother Christain,” which she produced, directed, wrote and stars in. The story of a bitter bistro owner convinced that the accident that killed her daughter was in fact murder, this anti-glamour vanity production aspires to the French poetic realism of the 1940s. But it lacks the purity and communicative power to achieve its aim and looks to be confined by its dowdy aesthetic and numbingly slow pace to marginal fest dates.
Set in industrial Lyon in the early ’50s, the film revolves around the title character (Boyer), a middle-aged widow whose intake of detective magazines and radio crime serials fuels her belief that her daughter’s fatal fall down a mine shaft two years earlier was no accident. As her suspicions shift among the grotesque, shady regulars at her dingy bar, she appears poised to take revenge. But despite her desperate need for someone to blame, she is forced to face the truth during a Christmas dinner.
For a film about grieving, this rigorous bout of emotional minimalism makes it difficult to really care about what the central character is going through. Wallowing in a grungy feel for no apparent purpose, Boyer has the docu-style camera lavish sepia-toned detail on Mother Christain taking sponge baths or washing clothes in the drab, faded interiors. But there’s none of the humanity of the best French peasant cinema that might have allowed an audience to connect with the woman’s sense of loss.