Making Plans for Lena. (Non ma fille tu n’iras pas danser) Director Christophe Honore. 105 min.
Le Refuge. Director Francois Ozon. 88 min.
I was planning on giving Christophe Honore’s latest a pass. The buzz was bemused, at best, when I strolled in after the press screening to catch the next film (“a mess” was the general concensus). I had also found the filmmaker’s previous two efforts (“Dans Paris” and “Les Chansons d’Amour”) as irritating as often as they were intriguing. And then there is that title, which has been reinvented from the original (“No my daughter, you will not be going to the dance”) to the insipid “Making Plans for Lena,” which suggests a crisply illustrated children’s book about a little girl picking out her confirmation dress. When I eventually went to the follow-up screening at IFC, what excited me was the very section that seemed to have irked many of the film’s detractors: a mesmerizing and thematically pivotal 15-minute interlude, wherein a Breton folk tale is enacted, replete with the elaborately conceived bells and whistles of medieval costumes, music and dance. I found it a welcome vacation from the sundry abuses inflicted by the titular character (Chiara Mastroianni) on herself and her family. From the moment this malcontent mother of two stuffs a sickly magpie into her bag at the urgings of her kids (who want to rescue it from harm’s way at a busy train station), we get the sense that this is the kind of parent terrible who eviscerates everything she touches. Or at least she does at the moment the film enters her life, when she is still reeling from what one can only infer was a punishing separation from her husband. Lena spews hurt and bitterness 360 degrees: at her mother (who attempts, intrusively, to reuinte Lena with her husband), her pregnant sister, who is sputtering about with her own marital issues; her estranged husband; her fatiguingly insouciant brother; his well-meaning girlfriend; and a would-be suitor (played by the omnipresent Louis Carrel, Honore’s resident Jean-Pierre Leaud). Caught in the line of fire are a small daughter and a sensitive, bookish son who looks to have inherited his grandmother’s ethereal beauty. Human train wrecks can be irresistible to watch, particularly one such as Lena who seems bent on tying everyone she loves down onto the tracks with herself; Mastroianni’s full-on commitment to Lena’s self-destructive impulses gives a gloomy propulsion to Honore’s ambling series of character sketches. Marie-Christine Barrault kicks in the necessary warmth as Lena’s unswervingly protective mother. As was the case with Hanna Schygulla’s portrait of a mourning matriarch in “The Edge of Heaven,” Barrault projects a luminosity and gravitas that only seems to deepen with the passing years.
When I saw “Le Refuge” at the Toronto Festival in September, I thought it was Francois Ozon’s most satistying film in a spell. Given the intervening gap of six months, I would be reluctant to comment further, other than to recall the marvelous chemistry between a genuinely pregnant Isabelle Carre and singer Louis-Ronan Choisy as a pregnant ex-junkie in recovery and the gay brother of her late boyfriend, who blows onto the scene and helps lift her out of her self-imposed isolation.
“Making Plans for Lena” public screenings: Mar. 18. 7 PM IFC Center; Mar. 19 8:45 PM and Mar. 20 1:30 PM, Walter Reade Theater. and 7 PM at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Christophe Honore and Chiara Mastroianni will attend screenings.
“Le Refuge” public screenings: Mar. 13, 7 PM, IFC Center, Mar. 20, 6:15 PM and Mar. 21, 8:45 PM Walter Reade Theater. Francois Ozon will attend screenings Mar. 20 & 21.