Balibar connects with Ellen, but not audiences, in Marais’ latest film
by Vladan Petkovic
The second feature by South African-born Pia Marais, At Ellen’s Age [+see also:
film profile], shared the main prize at the Crossing Europe Film Festival in Linz, following in the footsteps of her debut film The Unpolished [+see also:
film profile], which won Linz in 2007. Although benefitting from a starry cast, Marais’ story veers into too many directions and doesn’t succeed in emotionally connecting with audiences.
Ellen (French star Jeanne Balibar) is a 40-year-old flight attendant who comes home to her boyfriend Florian (Austria’s Georg Friedrich) to learn that another woman is expecting his child. The following day, she finds out she might have a terminal disease, which sends her spinning. Leaving a flight in the midst of an emergency instructions demonstration, she loses her job.
Homeless and lost, she accidentally gets involved with a radical animal rights activist group of 20-somethings that leads to many unexpected turns in her life, including a marriage with a man at least 15 years her junior. Throughout, Ellen becomes increasingly emotionally autistic, seemingly a visitor in other people’s lives.
Balibar’s accurate and daring performance lifts the film from what could have been an average exercise about one woman’s midlife crisis. Skillful editing by Mona Brauer and precise camera use by Hélène Louvart also help, but the script by Marais and Horst Markgraf doesn’t allow Ellen to really connect with any of the characters – nor, ultimately, with the audience.
Instead, Ellen seems to have decided to play a supporting role in other people’s lives, just like the leopard she encounters on a runway in Maputo, a footnote in her life’s diary. While that might be the point Marais wants to make, it doesn’t serve a cinematic work that should connect with viewers.
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