The Girl from Nowhere
Directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau
March 10 at Lincoln Center, part of its Rendez-Vous with French Cinema
Quiet, small and mostly sexless, this isn't at all what you’d expect from France’s horniest director. Brisseau's last three films—especially 2002's scandalous Secret Things—were extravagant, rococo productions full of model-hot women in variedly orgiastic situations. All balanced the tits with articulation and high-culture-minded (detractors would say "pretentious") ambitions, reflecting the full unrepressed range of the writer-director's preoccupations. The Girl from Nowhere (whose five-figure budget is a fraction of its predecessors') retains the philosophizing, but its libido is restrained, making time only for one scene of hallucinated girl-on-girl groping.
The man himself plays Michel, a retired math teacher who one day finds a girl, Dora (Virginie Legeay), being beaten in his Paris apartment-building's stairwell and decides to take her in. He’s writing a book, and this ethereal, stubborn homeless woman becomes his muse—and a void-filling presence for a man who “made solitude a companion” since the death of his wife decades ago. The bearish Michel seems honest when he tells his friend that his designs on Dora are innocent, but her arrival sparks a series of strange paranormal activities in the apartment that end up convincing Michel that she might be possessed of the spirit of his dead wife. (There's even a trying-on-her-dresses montage, sans bouncy rom-com music.)
That Dora is less sexualized than the typical Brisseau female makes her no less of a male fantasy; her role here is as the attractive young waif who magically materializes to bring significance to an aging intellectual's lonely twilight years. (That's an observation, not a criticism.) Dora's unreality, combined with Michel's old age and jadedness, makes their relationship unrealistic in a way that's in keeping with the movie's fairy-tale feel. This is a ghost story, haunted by the dead and Michel's awareness of his own dying artistic drive, which concerns him more than bodily death. It's a horror movie, with one or two genuinely terrifying scares, and the terror is effective despite or because of how humdrum the video photography and the airy, sunlit apartment look. And it's a personal movie: when an ex-pupil greets Michel on the street and thanks him for teaching her "so much about Psycho and John Ford!," she implies that he wasted his talents teaching mainly math. It feels like Brisseau the filmmaker (and film studies teacher) is here also confessing a guilty feeling of something wasted.
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