Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

MA SAISON PREFEREE (My Favorite Season) (France, 1993) *** 1/3

Directed and written by Andre Techine. Photography, Thierry Arbogast. Editing, Martine Giordano. Production design, Carlos Conti. Music, Philippe Sarde. Produced by Alain Sarde. Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Emilie), Daniel Auteuil (Antoine, her brother)) Marthe Villalonga (Berthe, their mother), Jean-Pierre Bouvier (Bruno, Emilie's husband)), Chiara Mastroianni (Anne, Emilie's and Bruno's daughter), Carmen Chaplin (Khadija a.k.a. "Radish")), Anthony Prada (Lucien, Emilie's and Bruno's adopted son). French with subtitles. 124 min. A Filmopolis release. Not rated.
"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety..." (Shakespeare, "Antony and Cleopatra.") But then the looks of Catherine Deneuve, the French Ice Queen, are but a small factor in "Ma Saison." Nor is there a Beauty and the Beast physical contrast to Daniel Auteuil who can be the ugliest of French male performers, as in his Ugolin in "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring. Both actors perform impeccably, with the right dosage of emotions.

The movie is close to the ultimate anti-Hollywood film, the opposite pole to High Concept movie, where you can sum up the plot in one sentence. What "auteur" Andre Techine presents us with is character and dialogue-driven, devilishly complex, about relationships that build up a maze of ever-shifting feelings, misunderstandings, actions, reactions and interactions.

The cast of characters: Emilie, 45, and husband Bruno have a notary office (this profession is important an para-legal in France) in a town in the Southwest, near Toulouse. Their children are first-year University student Anne, 19 (the real progeny of Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni) and the adopted Lucien, also 19,a bouncer in a bar. Antoine, Emilie's 40-year old brother, a neurologist, is a neurotic single. "Radish," 23, of Moroccan descent ( third-generation) works in the couple's office, is a free soul with a great body, sleeps around, with Lucien too, who both loves and despises her.

Emilie's and Antoine's long-widowed mother Berthe is a peasant woman who makes up for her illiteracy with her strong, independent character. After a stroke, she most reluctantly accepts to live with her daughter's family. But this does not working out for anyone...

Dysfunctional families, always a film sub-genre, have been a staple in the last decades. Remember "Ordinary People"? Dysfunction reigns in "My Saison" with a vengeance, but without cliches or by-the-numbers patterns.

Whether openly or silently, there is running criticism of everybody by everyone, and in a constant state of permutations. Put any two members of the family together and matters degenerate. There's not a single normal relationship but there's nothing irremediably unhealthy either.

Where this is most acutely felt is in the rapport and non-rapport of the couple -- but wait! The couple is not as much Emilie and her spouse as it is Emilie and her brother. They grew up together, very close, in a twin state of complicity and antagonism.

The old lady (superbly cast and played) decides to quit and go back to her house. This catalyzes further tensions and conflicts among all. What comes through with steady, intriguing accretions is that every character is volatile, worried by his/her inability to love, anxious to be loved. Even young Anne, as unstable as the rest, shows up to cuddle up with Radish, spelling out that she is no lesbian but wants "a sister." And in the Emilie-Antoine scenes script and execution make certain to undercut suggestions of incest.

Those two, who had spent long periods without meeting, have a love-truce-hate-reconciliation-compromise-etc. relationship that paradoxically (but that's only on the surface) makes them spat but also communicate far better with each other than with anyone else. There is between them unusual frankness in their mutual judgments and critiques.

For a variety of connected reasons, defensiveness and insecurity reign. These even go back to the dead grandfather who, says his widow "was never close to anyone." She relates specifics about the irrational guilt-feelings her late husband instilled in her.

"Ma Saison," rife with subtexts, sub-subtexts as well as many moments of unusual directness, handles its characters like a game of pick up sticks. Touch one and the others are affected.

You might think that this is a so-called "theatrical" film, but it would be a wrong guess. This highly cinematic picture integrates with great skill its physical look with the many mental states. (Techine shot every scene with two cameras to have more accuracy available when it came to cutting the movie).

Except for a puzzling sex-scene, the movie is clear within its complexity and dotted by many a powerful moment. Like the siblings in Berthe's farmhouse to take her to a retirement home discovering that she had killed her chickens. Or when a not-so-young bar customer suddenly breaks into a song about her loneliness, with lyrics distantly yet sharply reminiscent of Edith Piaf's laments. Not "realistic" but eloquently surrealist. No matter whom and what you consider, the film analyzes and exposes profound truths, about its people specifically, about families and human nature in general.

This fascinating work is about real persons. It speaks to us and to our lives, unlike so much superficial or never-never stuff we have seen of late. It came out in 1993 but, being so alien to the American screen experience, it's understandable that it made US importers shy away from picking it up. Only after Techine's "Wild Reeds"(1994) became an art-house hit in America did a small distributing company feel confident enough to import "Ma Saison." It has now added a major asset to our favorite movie season, the one that starts after Labor Day.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel