You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Plot 35’

Actor Eric Caravaca’s documentary explores the family secrets surrounding the death of a sister he never knew.

(French dialogue)

Small is rather beautiful, and also deceptively deep, in Eric Caravaca’s family-history documentary “Plot 35.” Across its slender 65-minute running time it packs the emotional resonance of many a longer feature, if only because, as much as it does describe an arc of change (by its close, there is a photograph on a gravestone where previously there was a gaping absence), it also understands that not all questions have satisfactory answers, and no matter how directly we confront our loved ones, they are their own people, and their secrets belong to them. “Plot 35” doesn’t just explore a family tragedy — it explores the tragedy of family, the way that loving our parents is not the same as understanding them, just as for them, loving their children does not always mean telling them the truth.

It’s noteworthy that Caravaca is an established French actor (he also heads up Philippe Garrel’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight title “Lover for a Day”), as the film’s closest analog is probably the wonderful “Stories We Tell,” by Canadian actor-director Sarah Polley. Perhaps there is something in an actor’s nature that gives the exploration of family secrets such a keen edge. But Caravaca’s film could just as well have been titled “Stories We Don’t Tell”: The “plot” of the title is in a graveyard in Casablanca where he believes his sister, Christine, who died as a child, is buried, but he is fascinated not so much by the story of her short life as by the systematic erasure of it from their family history by his parents. Caravaca, who is present in the solemn, sonorous voiceover and as the offscreen interlocutor in interviews with family members, sets out to investigate why Christine’s death was the source of so much shame and obfuscation.

Almost immediately, he runs into dark revelations and blank contradictions, some of which are red herrings, some of which point to sinister undercurrents: There is no plot number 35 in the graveyard; his mother claims that Christine lived to three years of age, while his father, who dies during the process of the film’s creation, claims it was only four months, and travel documents imply that neither parent was present when the girl died. Not all of these contradictions are, or ever will be, fully reconciled.

In the course of his investigation he weaves in allusions to Algerian, Moroccan and French colonial history, comparing the deliberate national policy of forgetfulness that followed the Algerian war of independence to the abrogation of Christine’s memory, though never bombastically so. He also displays a cinephile’s faith in the filmed and photographed image: There is no Christine in large part because there are no pictures of her and no 8mm home video footage of her. All of it was burned by his mother, whose explanation for this extreme course of action, “What should I do, cry over it?” is, like many of her replies, no real explanation at all.

This “pics or it didn’t happen” attitude, like many of the more tenuous connections between the intimate and the epic here, is only obliquely spelled out. Caravaca’s impulse is always toward the associative, the impressionist and the poetic rather than the literal. But it is present in his obsessive examination of his parents’ home movies as well as in shocking newsreel footage of atrocities during the Algerian war of independence and in grotesque images from Nazi propaganda movies extolling the “moral duty” that is euthanizing the handicapped. By resurrecting this footage — of his parents when young, happy and carefree, of mutilated anonymous soldiers dying in the muck and of physically deformed and otherwise afflicted, doomed children — Caravaca, like the cinema archive he visits at one point, is restoring these neglected images, as if in so doing he can save all the people they portray from the flames of history too. The evocative, intimate “Plot 35” is a tiny but valuable act of unforgetting.


Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: ‘Plot 35’

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Special Screening), May 28, 2017. Running time: 65 MIN. (Original title: “Carré 35”)

Production: (Documentary — France) A Pyramide Int'l. presentation of a Les Films Du Poisson production in co-production with Niko Film, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Cinema. (International sales: Pyramide International, Paris.) Producers: Laetitia Gonzalez, Yaël Fogiel.

Crew: Director: Eric Caravaca. Screenplay: Caravaca, Arnaud Cathrine. Camera (color): Jerzy Palacz. Editor: Simon Jacquet. Music: Florent Marchet.

With: (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content