Words In Blue

Motherhood keeps a selfish grip on a willfully mute child, but quickly alienates the audience, in "Words in Blue," a somnambulistic melodrama from French vet Alain Corneau. Helmer's track record will find pic a slot in undiscriminating international fests.

With:
With: Sylvie Testud, Camille Gauthier, Sergi Lopez, Mar Sodupe, Cedric Chevalme, Isabelle Petit-Jacques, Prune Lichtle, Cecile Bois, Esther Gorintin, Gabrielle Lopes-Benites, Louis Pottier-Aniaud, Clarisse Baffier, Niki Zischka, Laurent Le Doyen, Genevieve Yeuillaz.

This review was updated on Feb. 22, 2005.

Motherhood keeps a selfish grip on a willfully mute child, but quickly alienates the audience, in “Words in Blue,” a somnambulistic melodrama from French vet Alain Corneau. Helmer’s track record will find pic a slot in undiscriminating international fests.

Clara (Sylvie Testud) is the single mother of 6-year-old Anna (Camille Gauthier), who has not spoken since birth. After being violently attacked by classmates, Anna is switched to a school for deaf and mute kids, despite falling into neither medical category. At her entrance interview, head teacher Vincent (Sergi Lopez) takes a fancy to Clara and quickly realizes Anna is not the only one with a problem.

The extent of Clara’s difficulties are not fully revealed for several reels. However, an early flashback indicates communication has been an ongoing family issue.

Vincent’s compassion for his charges is a mask for his workaholic ways and social isolation. His sister and co-teacher, Muriel (Mar Sodupe), looks after him, but is aware her brother is covering his emotional pain.

As Vincent accelerates Anna’s education through sign language, he also surreptitiously works on drawing out Clara. Until Clara’s psychological dependence on her daughter is diminished, Anna’s growth is threatened — as are any romantic plans Vincent may have.

Anna responds positively, but Clara prefers to remain self-contained, testing the sang-froid of both Vincent and the audience as the story grinds along. Additional script flourishes don’t help. The introduction of a lullaby-singing bird – which is to become a pivotal plot point after several reels — sent slack-jawed viewers rushing for the exits at Berlin press screening caught.

Based on a novel by co-writer Dominique Mainard, project was brought to Corneau by producers Michele and Laurent Petin via lead actress Testud, with whom Corneau had worked on his previous feature, the Japan-set “Fear and Trembling.” Testud is competent in the role of Clara, but the character is problematic — simply too annoying and selfish to elicit sympathy. The benevolently charming Lopez struggles vainly to breathe life into the hapless role of Vincent.

As Anna is the link between two emotionally stunted adults, young thesp Gauthier carries a considerable burden. But she’s basically forced to pout and stare silently for almost two hours.

Helming by Corneau is workmanlike, but HD Cam-originated lensing is flat, and colors, except in some scenes at a vivid-blue beach house, are dull. Other tech credits are pro, apart from a soundtrack which largely consists of tedious songs by French artiste Christophe (some with lyrics by Jean-Michel Jarre). Synthesized, saccharine organ music sweetly compliments the moribund screenplay.

Title is derived from a soundtrack lyric: “I will tell you words in blue, the words my eyes speak so true.”

Words In Blue

France

Production: An ARP production, in association with France 3 Cinema, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: ARP, Paris.) Produced by Michele Petin, Laurent Petin. Directed by Alain Corneau. Screenplay, Corneau, Dominique Mainard, based on Mainard's novel, "Leur histoire."

Crew: Camera (color, HD Cam-to-35mm), Yves Angelo; editor, Thierry Derocles; music/lyrics, Christophe, Jean-Michel Jarre; art director, Solange Zeitoun; costume designer, Julie Mallard; sound (Dolby Digital), Pierre Garnet; assistant director, Vincent Trintignant; casting, Gerard Moulevrier, Pascale Beraud. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 16, 2005. Running time: 114 MIN.

With: With: Sylvie Testud, Camille Gauthier, Sergi Lopez, Mar Sodupe, Cedric Chevalme, Isabelle Petit-Jacques, Prune Lichtle, Cecile Bois, Esther Gorintin, Gabrielle Lopes-Benites, Louis Pottier-Aniaud, Clarisse Baffier, Niki Zischka, Laurent Le Doyen, Genevieve Yeuillaz.

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