mikhaël hers has made a sympathetically unassuming and easy-going film set in 1980s Paris; a world of LPs and stonewashed denim, with footage from the TV news archive interspersed with the drama. We begin with the celebrations of Mitterrand’s election victory in 1981 and end towards the end of the decade with the younger characters preparing to cast their first vote.
This is a film that doesn’t aim to push your emotional buttons as hard or not at all. But it covers a surprising amount of narrative territory and always has something compelling and tender about it. The director seems to be aiming for the unspectacular drama of Éric Rohmer. Three of his teenage characters are shown sneaking through the exit doors into a movie theater without paying, intending to see Joe Dante’s Gremlins, but instead stumbling into a screen depicting Rohmer’s full moon in Paris, and are unexpectedly entranced are. They are later shocked to hear their star Pascale Ogier dies at the age of 25.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Elizabeth, a woman recovering from breast cancer and divorce who lives with her son and teenage daughter in a large, somewhat chaotic apartment with beautiful views over the city. However, her husband, who now rents somewhere else with his new girlfriend, wants to sell the apartment at some point and split the money as part of the divorce, adding to Elisabeth’s uneasy new sense of being uprooted. (Husband and new girlfriend are never seen, and Hers’ unwillingness to include their existence in the film’s fabric is, I think, a mistake.)
Trying to land a job, she somehow finds a fairly desirable position behind the scenes of a late-night phone radio show, connecting callers with the hard-nosed presenter where Emmanuelle Béart gives her most confident performance for a time. Elisabeth can even fill in the mic after a while when the star is on vacation, but this isn’t given much importance: she doesn’t become a star and is later shown taking a modest second job in a library to supplement her modest income. The story begins when one night Elisabeth becomes interested in the show’s special guest: Talulah (Noée Abita) is a teenage runaway who collapses on people’s floors and is at risk of drug abuse. Elisabeth realizes that nobody on the show is interested in what happens to Talulah after the interview is over, so she invites her back to her apartment. Talulah will come and go in her life over the next ten years, playing with the heart of Elisabeth’s son.
Like Hers’ previous film Amanda, this is a quiet, sympathetic family drama with relatively low dramatic wattage. Even when it comes to extremely tense events – Elisabeth’s son falls into the Seine and Talulah jumps in to save him – things are resolutely kept under control. The point, as with Amanda, is healing: things come together and work, and pain is smoothed away. Elisabeth realizes how sad she is about her “empty nest” situation when the children move out, especially since she has to sell her nest and move to a smaller one. But group hugs ease the pain, and there’s something sweet about the film’s upbeat attitude.