Rendezvous With French Cinema: Making Plans for Lena

03/18/2010 10:05 AM |

Making Plans for Lena
Directed by Christophe Honoré

Wake Me Up if Honore Rediscovers His Lighter Side
  • Wake Me Up if Honore Rediscovers His Lighter Side

Dysfunctional-family dramas have become as French as tarte aux pommes, from Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale and Michel Gondry’s The Thorn in the Heart to Christophe Honoré’s latest, Making Plans for Lena, which screens as part of the Rendezvous With French Cinema series. After filming three movies in his homeland’s capital, what he’s taken to calling his “Paris Trilogy,” Honoré escapes the city for the countryside; shooting with a pale palette, under gray skies and palpably, perpetually damp air, Honoré fashions his Margot at the Wedding, though unlike Noah Baumbach he finds quiet flashes of grace amid the harried realism of strained family relations.

Chiara Mastroianni stars as the title character—in the original French, the title translates as “No, My Girl, You Won’t Go Dancing”—a strung out woman with uncombed hair, failing to cope with life’s many demands: when the film opens, she briefly loses her son in a train station; her kids ask her to save an injured bird, which dies in her purse. “You can’t even keep a bird alive,” notes her brother (Julien Honoré, the director’s brother, who, like Mastroianni, also had a small part in La Belle Personne). In fact, she can barely even steer a kayak. She constantly bickers—with her siblings, parents, children, ex-husband—pushing away the people around her; if the characters aren’t always in motion, running from each other in cars, on bicycles, trains and buses, they are at least threatening to. “Why can’t I manage,” Lena asks, “when others do?”

Good question! As a search for answers, the film is both character study and family study, as Lena’s relations try to sort her life out for her (thus the film’s English title), from arranging job interviews and summoning the husband she has fled to urging her to look out for Number One—herself. Would it be easier if she were a man? Would it be easier if she stopped blaming everyone else for her problems? “Life without drama is pointless,” Lena’s father says. “For this family’s women, at least.”

And what would an Honore movie be without Drama? But, while the film is certainly Serious, it’s not without its light touches and filmmaking free-spiritedness, as well—what Honoré does best (or, did well once). Louis Garrel turns up like an inside joke, to confess a wild love before fainting from desire; memories and flashbacks take the form of still-photo slideshows; the camera skims the surface of the local lake like it’s Crystal Lake; a legend of a deal with the devil is shared; and, most strikingly, the film is punctuated by a Celtic folk tale, in which a perverse young woman dances many would-be suitors to death. (Thus the film’s French title.)

The director’s last two films, Love Songs and La Belle Personne, suffocated under their own self-seriousness; after the exuberance of 2006’s Dans Paris, Honoré’s films began to reflect the sensibility of a moody teenager who refused to leave his room. But this new film will hopefully commence a new period in the filmmaker’s young career. On the directorial maturity index, Honoré has left adolescence and hit his mid-20s; he has begun to have a little fun again—even when grappling with grown-up stuff like sadness.

Making Plans for Lena screens tonight at 7 p.m. at IFC Center, and again at Walter Reade March 19-20, and at BAM on March 20. For times and details, click here.