A Lady In Paris: Ilmar Raag goes from teenage angst to old-age regret
by Laurence Boyce
- After making a splash on the festival circuit with Klass, Estonian director Ilmar Raag's latest film is an altogether more gentle affair
Those who saw Ilmar Raag's debut theatrical feature Klass may be somewhat surprised by A Lady in Paris [+see also:
film profile] (AKA An Estonian In Paris) as he supplants the searing raw energy he created for the tale of high school bullying thatturned into a massacre with a much more lyrical and reflective air.
The film sees Anne (Laine Mägi) – a woman reeling from the recent loss of her mother – come from Estonia to France to look after the elderly Frida (Jeanne Moreau). Frida – an Estonian émigré many years ago – soon turns out to be a spiky and cantankerous figure, resentful of Anne’s presence. All Frida wants is the attention of Stephane (Patrick Pineau), her former lover of years previously. But all Stephane wants is Frida out of his hair. As a battle of wills emerges between Anne and Frida and Stephane watches from the sidelines, their conflict leads to new hope and revelations for all three.
A Lady In Paris does tread a very well-worn path and the whole 'angry old person/initially antagonistic relationship/blossoms into friendship and a new zest for life' angle has been done numerous times from Driving Miss Daisy to recent UK film Song For Marion. Yet this still manages to be engaging, thanks to Raag's solid direction (even the touristic shots of Paris feel slightly different from the norm) and a couple of astonishing performances in the leads. While it would be easy to single out Moreau – who, at the age of 84, still manages to combine a formidable intensity with a underlying sense of vulnerability – one must also laud Mägi. Her blend of subtle defiance and quiet dignity creates an excellent and compelling on-screen chemistry with Moreau and it's during their interactions when the film is at its best.
Some may find it slight, especially after the power of Klass but – as Raag has personally admitted to wanting to make "a film for his mother" – there is a sweetness and sense of genuine warmth (though without mawkish sentimentality) here that also has some valuable things to say about the nature of aging and redemption over the years.
Premiering at this year's Locarno Film Festival – where it won the Ecumenical Prize – and recently given a domestic theatrical release, both the reputation of Raag and Moreau should ensure some more festival screenings and perhaps one or two foreign distributor’s looking for a title to appeal to an older audience.
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