Jeanne Herry hits the bull’s eye for her first time out as director with the clever, funny thriller, Elle l’Adore, which pairs the hugely talented Sandrine Kiberlain with classically- trained actor Laurent Lafitte. A witty script, a storyline that keeps the audience guessing until the credits roll and a cast of well-developed secondary characters, made Elle l’Adore the deserved winner of the Michel d’Ornano prize at this year’s Deauville film festival. And the film was tipped by Pierre Lescure, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, to become ‘the comedy of the year’.
Muriel Bayen (Kiberlain) likes to make life more interesting by inventing tall stories to tell her family and friends. As a divorced woman living alone, the most important figure in her life is the singer Vincent Lacroix (Lafitte) whose career she has avidly followed for over 20 years. After he accidentally kills his partner during a violent argument, Lacroix needs someone to dispose of the body and who better to keep his secret than one of his most devoted fans. Muriel, who is unaware of exactly what Lacroix has hidden in the car he wants her to drive to Switzerland, is ready to do anything to help her idol. But events don’t go as planned and Muriel and Vincent are forced to use their wits to stay one step ahead of the police.
As the daughter of French actress Miou Miou and singer Julien Clerc, Herry probably knows better than most the advantages and disadvantages of celebrityhood. Yet the celebrity/fan relationship of Elle l’Adore only serves as the backdrop to a more interesting dynamic. Herry says she wanted to show ‘the ordinariness of famous people and the originality of supposedly ordinary people’. And it’s true when the chips are down, it’s Muriel who correctly weighs up the situation and astutely recognises how her mythomania might just work in her favour.
Herry cleverly disproves the common assumption that Muriel’s obsession with Vincent is the result of a lower intellect. He simply brings glamour into a life that otherwise would be metro, boulot, dodo and listening to his music or gazing at his photo gives her a break from this monotony. Herry also takes a pop at the cult of celebrity. Although Vincent is seen taking a bow at the end of his concert, the audience never actually gets to hear him sing so there is no way of judging whether he has talent as a singer or if he is the product of clever marketing. And that is the odd thing about celebrity – how often is it meritocratic?
After the success of Albert Dupontel’s 9 Mois Ferme
(9 Month Stretch) last year, Kiberlain again shows her natural comic ability. It’s all in a fleeting expression that crosses her face or a slight hesitation before she delivers a line. Lafitte was also superbly funny earlier this year, in Vincent Mariette’s Tristesse Club.
Lafitte is a member of the prestigious Comédie Française and is clearly just at home playing comic roles as the French Classics. The two are ably assisted by Pascal Demolon as the explosive policeman whose difficult relationship with fellow female police officer Coline (Olivia Cote) both subtly adds to the fun and is an essential plot device.
Based on the evidence of this first feature, Herry is one of the brightest new directors to emerge so far this year.