Director: Léonor Serraille
Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Grégoire Monsaingeon, Jean-Christophe Folly
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A ball of fire with a mane of fiery red hair, Paula (Laetitia Dosch) begins Jeune Femme by knocking herself out against the door of the Parisian apartment of her now ex-boyfriend. But a blow to the head and a stop at a hospital won’t see an end to this night’s outbursts, as she’s soon back on the street outside her former home to begin another fruitless screaming match through a building buzzer and up at a window above. All she reaps from this is the kidnapping of her ex’s cat and the brief acceptance of defeat – it’s basically the only defeat she accepts in the film.
Léonor Serraille’s debut feature follows Paula in the weeks after this disruption to her life of 10 years as a wealthy photographer’s muse. At 31 years old, with little in the way of substantial work experience, and not on speaking terms with her surviving parent, she’s not in much of a position to burn bridges. So, naturally, she does just that, by getting booted out almost immediately by her pregnant friend, after a jibe too far.
Paula’s main mode is to act on impulse, be it by answering the door of a motel room without getting dressed or going along with a case of mistaken identity just because the person seems interested in her (and because it might ensure her some accommodation while she’s getting her act together). She’s less inclined to assess how these impulses will serve her in the long run, and while she manages to charm her way into two part-time jobs via her whirlwind energy, multiple webs of lies are set up in the process and destined to come apart.
While she has a chaotic character at her film’s centre, and the manic magnetism of star Dosch, Serraille sets her drolly funny character study against a realist backdrop. Paris represents an appealing place of opportunity for some supporting characters, but the city’s overwhelming and ugly qualities are palpably conveyed, from run-down interiors in the only rooms Paula can afford to the lonely public spaces.
In its portrait of a young woman in a state of arrested development after a breakup, wherein she also ruins relationships with friends and struggles finding new ones, Jeune Femme has received numerous comparisons to Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha, since its award-winning bow at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival – Serraille picked up the Caméra d’Or prize for best first feature. Both films’ protagonists share optimistic and resilient qualities, and Frances coincidentally takes a brief trip to Paris, but the portrait of Paula hits on some different truths that the other film does not. Not to discredit the achievements of Baumbach and Gerwig in any way, but while their film wraps itself up with a degree of neatness, Serraille’s open-ended approach to plot strands and characters’ moral positions evokes something that’s perhaps a bit more accurate to the chaos of a certain personality in a state of flux.