everybody loves jeanne

‘Everybody Loves Jeanne’ // Céline Devaux

‘Everybody Loves Jeanne’ was captivating.

Warning: the following review contains references to suicide.

This is the first full-length movie directed by Céline Devaux, but I can’t wait to see more of her work.  She wrote and directed this wonderful new French film, and it left me laughing, thinking, smiling, reminiscing… and wanting to watch it again. It is a complex, multi-dimensional story, with a fresh storyline and fine performances throughout. 

The movie stars Blanche Gardin as Jeanne, an environmental researcher who has developed a structure to reduce microplastic pollution in the ocean. She is feted as “woman of the year” by one television interviewer… and then everything goes awry. She becomes a comic meme symbolising failure. Jeanne is struggling, financially and emotionally.  She and her brother Simon (played by Maxence Tual) need to sell the apartment in Lisbon that they inherited from her late mother, who’d passed away as the result of suicide. Cleaning the apartment raises a lot of issues from her childhood, and her residual self-doubt and insecurities around her career, intelligence, success, and appearance. 

One of the things I found most interesting about this film is that Jean constantly hears voices, but they are not presented in a medicalized way that makes them seem as if she’s having schizophrenia. Instead, director Celine Devaux has drawn figures to represent her internal dialogues. It’s an original approach, and it is an incredibly funny way of representing the voices of self-doubt that we all experience from time to time. There are many laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film. For instance, Jeanne sees her late Mum as she cleans out the apartment. Jeanne wonders if she could have “schizophrenia, brain degeneration or impending blindness” and she dismisses them all as “nothing serious.”

On her way to Lisbon to sell her mother’s apartment, Jeanne meets a man who knew her at school, with a very similar name – Jean (played by Laurent Lefitte). He tells her that at school all the boys agreed, “Everybody loves Jeanne.” Such statements are laughable from her own perspective. Jean is a brilliantly written character. He is a street-smart and charming scallywag. Even when he teaches his niece to steal things from a supermarket, we can’t help but laugh. He teaches her that it is important to steal from supermarkets because they exploit the people who produce the products they sell. 

In Lisbon, Jeanne hooks up with a former lover, Victor (Nuno Lopes), and has a thoroughly unsatisfying tryst with him, knowing that he is married and has a child. (This is French film, after all, so one should expect a more relaxed attitude towards sexuality than in a standard Hollywood romantic comedy). Her relationship with Jean is far more complex and interesting. Jean has previously experienced a psychotic episode and sees her as someone on a similar journey of depression and anxiety. Jean’s unique personality means he even charms us as he suggests that Jeanne could be “A bit nuts? A bit cuckoo? I like it.” While Jeanne denies experiencing these emotions, we get a sense that Jean is far more astute than one might initially think. 

There are serious issues being explored in the film. Jeanne is dealing with post-suicide grief, survivor guilt, and she is wracked with self-doubt. But we see something different: a fascinating and beautiful woman who is picking up the pieces of her life despite serious setbacks. 

The acting performances of Blanche Gardin, Laurent Lefitte and Maxence Tual are remarkable, as is the script.  Even the music performed by various characters in the film adds to its charm and meaning.  

If French films had popular appeal in Hollywood, this film which would be discussed in terms of Oscar nominations.  See it.

‘Everybody Loves Jeanne’ opens in cinemas across Australia on September 9th. For more information visit Palace Cinemas.

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