La Vie Promesse (2002)

 “I want to be normal.”

La Vie Promise is a showcase for the considerable talents of veteran French actress, Isabelle Huppert. Huppert plays prostitute Sylvia who lives and works in Nice. One day, her epileptic 15-year-old daughter, Laurence (Maud Forget) shows up. Sylvia is callous and cruel, but Laurence, who has run away from a foster home, doesn’t take the hint, and sneaks into her mother’s flat. After a physical altercation with a pimp, Sylvia and Laurence are on the run. Mother and daughter don’t exactly have a loving relationship, and their companionship is derived from expediency. At first, Sylvia has no clear destination in mind, but after contacting an old friend for help, Sylvia decides to look for the reliable husband and son she abandoned years before.

So far, so good …

At this point, the film begins to unravel and the plot grows increasingly more sentimental. A petty quarrel causes Sylvia and Laurence to separate, but they search for each other as they wander around the French countryside. Surely the chances that they will re-connect are slim to none, but in La Vie Promise, the impossible happens. Sylvia and Laurence do re-connect, and what’s even handier is the mysterious Josh (Pascal Greggory) they reel in on their travels.

Isabelle Huppert’s performance salvages the film. As always, Huppert seizes the role, and makes it her own. She plays a formidable Sylvia–with bleached blonde hair, and pale make-up, she looks as washed out as we know she feels. Unfortunately, along with the film’s over-reliance on sentimentality and co-incidence, there are additional problems with the plot and also with Sylvia’s character. The film starts out focusing on the relationship between mother and daughter. After the first opening scenes, Laurence (literally) takes a back seat to the drama, and the troubled relationship between Sylvia and Laurence is never explored. The film meanders towards a tepid romance, and there’s even about 2 minutes of action thrown in as mystery assailants follow this troubled trio. The mystery assailants suddenly appear, but this is another plot element that emerges and then is dropped. Finally, Sylvia’s miraculous transformation is just not credible. Sylvia is established within the first 5 minutes of the film of being utterly heartless, but then the heady combination of the countryside and childhood memories cause Sylvia’s catharsis. The film’s cinematography is eye-catching–especially when focusing on the fields of wild flowers. Ultimately, La Vie Promise fails to deliver, and the viewer’s enjoyment hinges on the acceptance of sentimentality, and whether or not Sylvia’s conversion to humanity is credible. In French with English subtitles.

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Filed under France, Isabelle Huppert

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