Director: Léonor Serraille
Writers: Léonor Serraille, Clémmence Carré, Bastien Daret
Starring: Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Grégoire Monsaingeon
After breaking up with her artist boyfriend of 10 years, Paula (Dosch) is left alone and penniless with just a cat for company (that actually belongs to her ex-boyfriend), and now she must somehow find a way to survive in Paris and is determined to do so on her own terms.
Character driven narratives are a tricky one to get right, as they run the risk of feeling hollow and slightly pointless if the viewer is asked to spend over 90 minutes with one character, but yet the film does not contain within its narrative some broader and more interesting themes and ideas than just the main narrative journey of the protagonist.
Well, sadly Jeune Femme seems to suffer from this problem, as Léonor Serraille’s film just feels like a selection of random events told in a very episodic and disjointed way without any clear focus of exactly any kind of point the director is trying to make. The story lacks the focus to be a truly engaging character story in its own right, whilst also lacking the substance to have any kind of true meaning or message. Life of course can be a series of cause and effect coincidences, but some of the narrative developments in Jeune Femme are a little too contrived, and so do reduce some of the feeling of true realism, and therefore genuine engagement with the protagonist and her narrative journey. This is not helped by the depiction of some of the other characters within the narrative, as their actions and the times they appear seem to be a little too convenient (or indeed inconvenient from the point of view of Paula), and this also serves to detract from any deep narrative engagement.
However, making up for the lack of narrative focus or substance is a wonderfully committed performance from Laetitia Dosch. Her desperation and relentless drive to not only make the most out any situation she finds herself in (no matter how seeming desperate or hopeless it is) but do also do it on her own terms is portrayed with relentless energy by Dosch. Her performance not only serves to make the character of Paula seem to have more depth than the writing perhaps deserves, but also makes her a character that we the viewer cannot help but care about and want to succeed in life and eventually find some kind of happiness and belonging. Her irrational and sometimes erratic behaviour makes her a character that can be frustrating to watch, but this often makes for even more compelling viewing.
While Jeune Femme is certainly a compelling and engaging enough viewing experience while on, it just lacks the substance to be any more than that. In my opinion, for a film like this to truly work it needs to give us more so that we can genuinely relate to the character and place ourselves into the character’s own situation and examine some themes and ideas that we can relate to and apply to our own life experiences. Though initially we can place ourselves in her situation and ask ourselves what we would do, the narrative gets a bit too contrived for this level of audience empathy to be maintained. There is no denying that we cannot help but have a degree of sympathy for our protagonist, but never true empathy for her, and so this can only inevitably lead to a very watchable film while on, but never one that leaves any lasting impression.
Thanks mainly to a superb leading performance Jeune Femme is a very watchable and at times reasonably engaging film, but the lack of narrative focus means the often-contrived character driven narrative is largely forgettable.