It’s taken director Olivier Jahan 15 years to produce a second full length feature after the award winning Faites Comme Si je n’étais Pas Là (Pretend I’m not here), so is Les Châteaux de Sable worth the wait? Set against the backdrop of the Breton Côtes d’Armor in autumn, the film is certainly visually stunning, but struggles to get to the heart of its theme of loss and mourning. The main characters, with the exception of the excellent Jeanne Rosa as Claire Andrieux, are too selfish and self-obsessed to be sympathetic. And the drama inches along at a snail’s pace towards the foreseeable final scenes. Les Châteaux de Sables is infused with a melancholy in keeping with the gravity of its subject matter, but it lacks any contrast to the suffering of its main protganonists and seems flat and uninspired
After the death of her father (Alain Chamfort), thirty-something Éléonore (Emma de Caunes) inherits his house in Brittany. She decides to sell the property as quickly as possible and use the money to travel and revitalise her career as a photographer. She organises a weekend at the house with estate agent Claire Andrieux and asks her ex-boyfriend Samuel (Yannick Renier) to go with her to help sort out her father’s belongings. Relations between the two are complicated. After just a few months apart, Samuel is already in love with another woman, Laure (Gaëlle Bona ) but clearly still has feelings for Éléonore, while she regrets the affair that was behind their break-up. The weekend promises to be difficult for both of them as they sift through a range of memories and emotions and try to come to terms with why their relationship failed.
Éléonore expériences life through the lens of her camera. And instead of talking to Samuel, she prefers to take his photograph sometimes asking him to pose, other times catching him unawares. Jahan has taken a similar step back keeping Éléonore and Samuel at an emotional distance. To understand their inner thoughts, he includes voiceovers, actors talking to the camera, even text messages appearing on the screen which sit awkwardly against the general feel of the film. And there is a whole stream of characters who come to view the house who seem to serve no real purpose and only act as an unwelcome distraction. Thank goodness for estate agent Claire who is quirky and almost childlike in her enthusiasm for her job. She too is coping with loss and her forced optimism is fascinating to watch. De Caunes and Belgian actor Renier work hard to bring the story to life, but they face an uphill struggle.