La Petite Lili (2003)

 “If you try to find the audience, you head for the gutter.”

In the French film, La Petite Lili, famous actress Mado (Nicole Garcia) and her current director/lover Brice (Bernard Girardeau) arrive at Mado’s country home. On the surface, it’s supposed to be a peaceful retreat, but underneath the polite smiles and socially acceptable behavious, resentments simmer.

The married housekeeper is having a torrid affair with the local, disaffected doctor, and the housekeeper’s daughter, Jeanne-Marie (Julie Depardieu) is mooning around after Mado’s son Julien (Robinson Stevenin). Julien ignores Jeanne-Marie and is hot and heavy with local girl, Lili (Ludivine Sagnier). He’s also made his first, short film, and its sole star is Lili. Julien insists on screening the film one disastrous evening. The screening of the film causes emotions to erupt, and Lili’s ambitions are revealed.

While Julien (who takes himself far too seriously) ostensibly professes to loathe Brice for the sort of films he makes, he also seems impatient and resentful of Brice’s relationship with his mother. Is Julien’s film a way of seeking his mother’s approval, a way of illustrating his superiority to Brice, an ode to Lili, or a genuine effort to create serious art?

The fascinating first half of the film leads to what seems to be an ending that depicts the artistic characters working through their lives and problems as they know best–through film. But director Claude Miller may well be playing with reality here. Are we watching a script within a script–metafiction on the big screen, or are the events of the second half of the film imagined? This tantalizing thought–along with a few subtle clues–elevates the film above the tangled romance. La Petite Lili is based on the Chekhov play The Seagull (I didn’t recognise it) and is in French with English subtitles.

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