Hand in Hand: magnetic attraction
by Fabien Lemercier
- After her staggering Declaration of War, Valérie Donzelli is back with an inventive, but unequal, "comedy" about romantic attachment
After being discovered at Locarno in 2009 with Queen of Hearts [+see also:
film profile] and universally praised for Declaration of War [+see also:
film profile] (a favourite at the 2011 Cannes Critics’ Week, French candidate for the Oscar for best film in a foreign language in 2012, and 837,000 admissions in France), Valérie Donzelli has just unveiled her third feature Hand in Hand [+see also:
film profile] at the Rome Film Festival. Weaved around a burlesque symbolic concept (an irresistible attraction between two beings to the point where they can’t physically separate, however much they want to), the film navigates the storyline of a dynamic and whimsical comedy imbued with however quite melancholy feelings about romantic attachment, magnetic attraction, the fear of breaking free and of being left alone. The director sets all these ingredients in motion at great speed, playing on the rhythmic syncopation and formal audacity that are characteristic of her earlier works, yet without managing to give irreproachable unity to her patchwork.
A red woolly hat on his head, Joachim Fox (Jérémie Elkaïm) flies down a countryside road on his skateboard somewhere in the east of France. A mirror artisan, he lives with the family of his married sister Véro (Valérie Donzelli), with whom he trains for amateur dance competitions. When he is sent to Paris for work at the Garnier Opera, Joachim impulsively kisses Hélène Marchal (Valérie Lemercier), the director of the prestigious establishment’s dance school. Suddenly our two characters become inseparable, as if by magic ("it’s more powerful than me"), as if an invisible elastic band tied them together. It’s a dependancy that neither likes, as they are so dissimilar (age, social and cultural background, capital versus province, "little idiot" versus "old bourgeoise"), but that they are forced to get used to, much to the displeasure of the caustic Constance (Béatrice de Staël), Hélène’s great friend (probably also lover) and confidante. But what can they do to stop this magnetic attraction? As our duo slowly becomes used to its involuntary synchronisation, feelings slowly emerge without however expressing themselves carnally. This mysterious couple’s life also holds a secret: When one is sleeping, the other is free. But neither speaks about it, nor makes the best of it. Because attachment is both “scary and reassuring”...
To love, leave each other, to know who we are really: Hand in Hand energetically and with good humour gathers paradoxical emotional matter in the tradition of François Truffaut's cinema but in post modern grab (particularly a superb soundtrack). But, like its characters, the film has trouble extricating itself from its initial concept. And while its great formal inventiveness does compensate for the highs and lows of its screenplay, it cannot be forgotten that a shiny package cannot be a substitute for a strong subject, at the risk of falling into affectation.
(Translated from French)
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