A dysfunctional family drama that uses bittersweet humor and oddball touches to leaven its view of issues such as loss, solitude and the complexities of love and family relationships, “Who Plucked the Feathers Off the Moon?” is alternately touching and cloying. Stridently quaint and charming at times and more quietly naturalistic at others, writer-director Christine Carriere’s film travels a route familiar from too many modest French telepics to secure it more than a passing presence on the fest circuit.
Following an arc of roughly 15 years in the lives of two sisters, the film introduces Suzanne and Marie (Laetitia Ferreira, Angele Guedra) as children whose mother has died of cancer. They make it their responsibility to look after their bereaved father, Lucien (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), whose depression sends him more seriously off-kilter with each year that passes. The precious humor of this early section frequently grates, but the tone becomes more restrained as the story moves ahead into the girls’ adolescence.
The easygoing rapport between them changes radically when Lucien sees the now teenage Marie (Elsa Dourdet) fooling around with a boy during a seaside vacation. Feeling hurt and betrayed, he refuses to speak to her, prompting her to quit school and, soon after, to leave home and sever all contact.
While Marie is coldly detached from her father’s messed-up state, Suzanne (Garance Clavel) veers between concern and impatience. When she marries, leaving him alone with his sorrow, Lucien turns to his mother (Michelle Ernou) for comfort.
To some degree, the film improves as it progresses, gaining in depth through Suzanne’s unhappy marriage, Marie’s uncertainty over returning and the blossoming and wilting of a late-in-life love affair that leaves Lucien’s mother in the same desolate state as her son.
While the emotional rewards for much of the duration are somewhat patchy, Carriere’s script steers the family’s members to a satisfying conclusion of hope and renewed bonds. The director clearly has an affectionate link to her humble characters, their sad, small-town Northern French situation and their slightly bizarre behavior that lends the simply shot film some substance.