Director: Laurent Larivière (France, Germany, Ireland). Year of Release: 2022
A dark road, late a night. A woman is driving through the pouring rain. Suddenly, she turns her head to address the camera and introduces herself. Her name is Joan – not John, Joanne or even the 2-syllabled Catalan Joan. The name may not be common in France, but it is in Ireland, land of her father. The film is barely 1 minute old – 2 minutes tops, and I’m already silently screaming at the screen: “Why are you telling me this? Why should it be of any relevance or interest?”
Unless I missed anything, this information is neither relevant not interesting. Indeed, the whole of the opening scene is a bit of a damp squib. Yes, it does contain a little exposition which explains why Joan spends the next scene working as an au pair in Dublin, but I’m sure that could have been set up with other methods. Joan also mentions an old memory she has of her parents which might not have actually happened, whuch reminds us that she might just be an unreliable narrator.
So, anyway, Dublin. Joan sees a chancer robbing an old woman of her necklace which he uses to buy her a drink. She tells him that it’s ok to rob multinationals, but the old woman might be a widow and the necklace may be the last memento from her dead husband. “Ah”, he says, “but she might have been a nasty person”, with a smug look on his face as if he’d just said something deeply intelligent. I think we’re supposed to find him charming, rather than just being a bit of a dick.
Joan and Doug soon become an item. She joins him on his pickpocketing sprees, after which they go to the pub where he does blokey things with his mates dancing to early Boomtown Rats records, while she sits on her own at the bar chatting to the barmaid, who happens to be Doug’s ex. Everything seems to be going great, till the police catch them when they’re on the rob and Joan ends up first in a jail cell, then back in France. She neglects to tell Doug that she’s pregnant.
Suddenly, we’re back in the “present”, and Joan bumps into Doug who has grown thicker, greyer and beardier. The scene is not there to reignite their romance, but to make Joan start thinking about her past. Many of the subsequent scenes are of her remembering how she got from there to here. Remember that we are watching Joan’s memory / interpretation of history, which may or may not correspond with what actually happened.
Joan stays with her parents and accompanies her mother to watch mum taking karate lessons. Joan’s mother gets a little too fond of her karate teacher, resulting in two unfortunate scenes – one of some very dubious Japanface, and one of her having sex with some octopus-squid creature. Whatever, mum leaves for Tokyo, and Joan is brought up by her dad. Though we don’t see too much of this, as we’re quickly fleeing to another time zone.
Joan becomes a highly successful publisher, although the film wisely spares us the tedious story of her rise to the top. She becomes involved with one of her clients. Tim, an alcoholic German writer who is apparently based on Michel Houellebecq. Tim is played by Lars Eidinger, who’s very good at playing arrogant man-children who expect everyone else to mop up after them. Tim seems to be incredibly successful, despite his books being pale pastiches of his earlier work.
Tim treats the television interviews that he’s forced to do with contempt. When the interviewers ask stupid questions, he doesn’t even try to reply. There are some interviewers who can do this with great humour and charm – some interviews with John Lennon and early Bob Dylan are hilarious. But Tim has none of their wit. His answers are self-pitying and often stray into moaning about his unsuccessful love life. Rather than being entertaining, they are just embarrassing.
There are many films which have unsympathetic characters and still work (Taxi Driver, anyone?) But this is supposed to be a love story. We are supposed to be to some extent invested in the characters, to want their relationships to work. But whereas Joan is nice enough – she’s played by Isabelle Huppert, how can she be anything else? – neither Doug not Tim seem worth losing sleep about. It becomes very difficult to care.
Joan’s son Nathan comes to stay from Montreal, where he is currently researching into memory. But Nathan is so bland that their interactions just aren’t interesting. Then there is a Plot Twist which makes us reinterpret everything we have seen so far. One review has even said that even if the film seems crappy first time round, watching again with this extra knowledge could be really rewarding. To which my immediate response was “Do I really have to go through this again?”
By the time the Plot Twist arrived, my mind had already started to wander. The characters just aren’t interesting enough for us to care what happens to them. At one stage, Joan moves to live on in a massive house that is surely too expensive for a retired publisher. But even if it isn’t, living in a mansion with a huge garden does not make a character more sympathetic. This is a film about the rich and their trivial problems. If you can get excited by this sort of thing, please give it a go.