Julie Delpy, you wonderful treasure.
My love affair with modern French cinema continues with her brilliant film Le Skylab; Written, Co-Produced and Directed by Ms Delpy.
Maybe watching this film on a bleak January afternoon (courtesy of Women’s Day at the LOCO film festival) helped cement a jovial, if a little exaggerated, view of the exceedingly beautiful South of France beaches, happy children and 70s style and music. Whatever, my instincts on seeing a film first time is usually right, and everything I remember about this film is followed by a wave of contentment .
Flashback to the Summer of 1979 where our ten-year-old protagonist Albertine (Lou Alvarez), and her entire family have gathered in seaside town of Brittany, for her grandmother’s birthday. The family home inevitably becomes a stage in which a series of secrets, fights, declarations of love and revelations of crazy comes to light. Marry that with the very real and very contentious event of NASA’S Skylab space station that was rumoured to be on a collision course with Brittany at the same time.
Stereotypes are always born from some version of truth*. So it’s no surprise that the large family gathering – supplied with copious amounts of wine, bread (actual french bread) and cigarettes, engaging in passive aggressive conversation about wanting love and passionate sex – is what you get and more. Whats great is that we get to see the world through Albertine’s (a version of Delpy’s own childhood perhaps) eyes but not exclusively. There’s a wonderful transition between the kids corner and adults table and more often than not the generations meet and even then it’s natural cohesive relationship. They interact and even look like a family and that has as much to do with the acting as it does with the writing.
Julie Delpy is wonderful, if anything she’s a subtle big star. What I mean is, you know she’s an important player in french cinema and world cinema, but in this film she’s also supported by a host of fantastic co-stars. Denis Ménochet (Inglorious Basterds), for example, is fantastic as the unstable war veteran Uncle Roger and Eric Elmosnino as Jean, the father of young Albertine and also the liberal husband to Delpy’s character (Anna) is exceedingly charismatic, stealing the show with his expert delivery (just some of many well written lines in the script). Not much is said about the falling space station just brief glimpses via a news report and on a news paper, and there is some comforting humility in that. It’s never shoved down our throats but serves as one of those ‘can you remember where you were when..” questions that we can all relate to.
One of the best things is of course the music. It’s set in the disco era, so of course that’s what we get. One scene in particular takes place at a kids party, where Albertine is hoping to catch a glance of the object of her affections and where her obnoxious teenage cousin Christian (Vincent Lacoste) – in one of the best (but alarmingly accurate) lame kids’ disco sequences I’ve seen – is planning on ‘frenching’ (ahem) two girls he met earlier that day. Ah to be young Oui?.
The only fault I can find is the awkward confrontational introduction and conclusion bookends of the film. It doesn’t really work with the tone of the rest of the movie, perhaps because the majority of the film is a flashback and also in french (which the present day sequences are not) it’s kind of romantic and nostalgic; but the beginning and the end, where Albertine is now a mother of two, is just irritating.
With a rare collection of top of the crop cast, no doubt all friends of Delpy’s made along the way throughout her extensive career, is worth the watch alone. The script is a bonus and the way its filmed is a luxury.*Taken from a TED talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; honestly she has a hold over me right now.