In her acclaimed novel, Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf described a single day in the life of her titular protagonist. In his new movie, Suzanna Andler, Benoît Jacquot describes a single day in the life of his titular protagonist. The similarities extend to a style that might be termed "stream of consciousness" — indeed, despite the actions of its actors, the film seems to play out in passive voice. Suzanna is a very wealthy woman. Rather, she is married to a very wealthy man, whose relationship with her is described with exquisite precision. He adores her. But he also makes her rue that she is the most cheated-upon wife in the French Riviera. "Has he had enough of me?" she asks a woman who knows them both. The reply: "He's had enough of marriage."
The film, based on a play by Marguerite Duras, is structured as a series of conversations. First, Suzanne has a talk with a real-estate agent who shows her an eight-bedroom villa that costs two million a month. Then, we meet her lover, Michel (Niels Schneider), a "journalist for lousy rags" who walks in a little after the agent leaves. They discuss their situation in the casual-existential way only characters in French movies seem able to discuss their situation. The third conversation is with the woman, and it occurs by the beach. Over their lines, we hear the calm sound of waves. It's as though the angst in the talk is being given therapy by Nature. And then, Suzanne talks to the husband, who is only heard as a voice over the phone. He says he can always take a plane and be with her by night. She refuses the offer.
The movie summary says: "She must choose between her conventional destiny as a wife and mother, and her freedom, embodied by her young lover." But that may be far too dramatic for this drifting dissection of a woman who doesn't seem to do anything as active as choosing. She is stuck in a time warp, and she's trying to stave off the decision-making by talking about her life, as though that might give her some clarity. I can't say I'm a big fan of this type of film, which turns navel-gazing into High Art. But Charlotte Gainsbourg is exquisite as Suzanne. She captures both the "First World Problem"-ness of her situation as well as the genuine quandary a married woman finds herself in. She single-handedly makes the movie worth the while.
The black-and-white cinematography seems just right, because there's an unfussy starkness in Sebastian. He has no shades. When his conscious efforts yield no fruit, he goes where life takes him. Then again, this may just be how we perceive him, because the film's timeline is brilliantly deceptive. The director said, "I was guided more by emotions and intuitive reflection rather than by the convention of how a script is written." That's perfect. Seemingly unimportant scenes unfold over minutes. Seemingly monumental events, like Sebastian becoming a father, are compressed into seconds. Whether tending to a dying man or working with an agricultural collective or teaching a class, we see a man making it through the world one step at a time, one day at a time. The film made me wonder if Sebastian's way is the only way. In a world that keeps changing, is there any use of long-term planning?
A few teenagers talk about a song. An old man comes by and tells them not to make such a ruckus with their scooter at night. By the riverside, two young women talk about relationships. By another riverside, a woman performs a sexual act for a man she's chatting with online. Elsewhere, a woman sits on a window sill, by a man sitting on a chair. He recalls the day they first met. Looking at the bed, he says, "I was sleeping here. The phone rang… In 24 hours, my life changed." We get a religious procession for Mother Mary, and a mother talks about her son entering the friary. The boy is later mocked for his weight, as a "beached whale". Of such floating, anecdotal, fly-on-the-wall vignettes is I Comete – A Corsican Summer made.
Director Pascal Tagnati told Cineuropa that he wanted to play around with local daily life, to poke it about, to make it political in places, and to challenge it, in certain respects. "Our villages in the summertime are the perfect places to observe and to try to understand the micro-society that is modern-day Corsican society. It's a bit like a laboratory." Hence the feeling that the place and its people are put under a microscope. This sort of film can be vague, because there's always the sense that it would work just as well if this set of people (and the things that happen to them or the things they talk about) was replaced by another bunch of characters. What keeps it together is the hyperlink structure, where we keep returning to these Corsicans, each time knowing a little bit more. The gorgeous summertime photography doesn't hurt, either.