Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Jules Porier, Grégory Gadebois, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Salée, Isabelle Huppert
Watch Reinventing Martin online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / BFI Player / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / Google Play / Sky Store / Vimeo On Demand
Directed by Anne Fontaine (whose prolific output includes Coco Before Chanel, Perfect Mothers, The Innocents, Gemma Bovery and Nathalie), Reinventing Marvin is inspired by (but not officially adapted from) Edouard Louis’ best-selling autobiography The End of Eddie (En finir avec Eddie Bellegueule). Told across two intercutting timelines, it tells the coming-out story of future actor Marvin Bijou (translated as Marvin Jewel in the subtitled version), switching between his unhappy childhood in the working class French village where he grew up, and his later experiences in Paris, where he works on producing a show based on his own life.
Jules Porier plays Marvin in the childhood sections of the film and these are by far the most compelling. Porier has a heartrendingly stoic expression that draws you into the film as he deals with horrific, homophobic bullying at school and his ignorant family, including his dopey father (Grégory Gadebois, excellent) and a violent older brother (Yannick Morzelle). Fontaine and Porier’s handling of the scenes where he experiences the first stirrings of his sexuality are nicely handled, as is his connection to both a friendly girl in his class (India Hair) and the kindly teacher (Catherine Mouchet) who encourages him to join a drama class.
Rising star Finnegan Oldfield (Nocturama, Bang Gang) plays the older Marvin, and he’s equally good, in addition to bearing a striking resemblance to Porier. There’s also strong support from the likes of Vincent Macaigne (as the theatre director who offers emotional support in Paris) and Charles Berling as Marvin’s sugar daddy lover Roland, who just happens to be close friends with Isabelle Huppert (playing herself), who, in turn, helps Marvin produce his play and ends up playing his mother.
Unfortunately, the adult sections of the film are less satisfying, which may explain the intercutting between the two timelines, as the film could just as easily have run chronologically; you’re expecting a dramatic moment that pays off the cutting back and forth, but there isn’t one.
The film’s main problem is that Marvin’s passivity becomes much more of an issue in the adult sections. He’s meant to have reinvented himself (to be fair, the original French title is just “Marvin”), but he hasn’t really changed all that much, other than to give himself the stage name of Martin Clement, and his life is largely dictated by outrageous coincidence. Similarly, there’s a note of pretentiousness in the show that Marvin produces and eventually stars in – put frankly, it looks like a boring play that has none of the impact of the childhood scenes it’s based on. Even Huppert’s divine presence is a little disappointing (she’s only in a small handful of scenes, despite her prominence in the marketing) and you can’t help feeling she’d had a little more fun with it.