21 Nights with Pattie: A hidden source and macabre farce
by Fabien Lemercier
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2015: The Larrieu brothers’ latest film is cheerful, funny and skilfully mixes genres, with a cast starring the superb Isabelle Carré and Karin Viard
"There’s something indescribably pleasurable about knowing everything that is right about man. This truth, which doesn’t amount to much as it can only ever be relative, is without a doubt the most demanding and the most exhausting of joys.” It could be said that this extract from L'extase matérielle by Jean-Marie Le Clézio, a Nobel Prize in Literature winner to whom brothers Jean-Marie and Arnaud Larrieu pay direct and playful tribute to in 21 Nights with Pattie [+see also:
film profile], which was screened in competition at the 63rd San Sebastián Film Festival, sums up the cinematographic approach of a pair of filmmakers deeply rooted in France and the carnal exploration of human emotion. For as one of the characters in the film points out, “you can either be highbrow or a total lech”, and it is on this totally comfortable bawdiness (which already featured in To Paint or Make Love [+see also:
interview: Arnaud & Jean-Marie Larrieu
interview: Philippe Martin
film profile]) that the Larrieu brothers base themselves to make their style Rabelaisian, original, deceitfully simple and downright funny, giving their actors particularly good roles to play.
Adopting the form of an ‘invitation to travel’, taking ‘the most unyielding path’ towards ‘an extreme land’ and set against the backdrop of music evoking ‘mojo’ spells, 21 Nights with Pattie unfolds around a woman and the classic Eros – Thanatos duality. Caroline (Isabelle Carré), has cut her family holiday in the Balearic Islands short to travel to a small isolated village in the south of France where her mother Isabelle has suddenly and unexpectedly died. Her plans? To bury this parent of hers who abandoned her when she was just a child and whom she didn’t know very well the next day, put her house up for sale and leave as soon as possible. It’s mid-August, boiling hot, some of the locals take it upon themselves to go skinny-dipping in the pool at Isabelle’s house where they worked, the mobile phone signal is awful and above all, there’s Pattie (Karin Viard), a woman who did some cleaning for Isabelle. Pattie and her steamy sexual anecdotes (I’m very shy with girls, which is strange because I’m very dirty when it comes to men, I fuck on the first date and if possible, with the lights on, I like to see everything straight away "). Pattie symbolises a return to nature which Caroline, in whom the flame went out long ago ("I haven’t felt desire for years"), gradually starts to make against her will when something unbelievable happens: the corpse of her mother disappears. What follows is a local police investigation, various theories (was it an upset lover? A necrophiliac? A scavenger?), the arrival of a strange man (André Dussollier) who draws the attention of the police and whets the appetite of Pattie, walks down country lanes and through the depths of the forest, swimming in the stream, night-time celebrations in the village, local superstitions ("the Blessed Virgin of 15 August will interfere with or put everything right")... "Is everyone here mad?" exclaims Caroline, whose defences slowly but surely start to come down…
Highly amusing and carried by two remarkable actresses who are very well supported (notably by Laurent Poitrenaud, Denis Lavant and Philippe Rebbot), 21 Nights with Pattie cleverly mixes genres (comedy of manners, ‘Freudian’ drama, a detective plot, forays into fantasy, a snapshot of country life, etc.), with bon-vivants and the present merrily standing alongside ghosts and the past, with the only bluntness to be found in the dialogue and staging that is carefully thought out yet elegantly discreet. A successful yet unpretentious contrast between great audacity and minimalism that is the trademark of the Larrieu brothers, insightful lovers of fables and naturalist farce.
(Translated from French)