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BERLINALE 2022 Berlinale Special

Review: About Joan


- BERLINALE 2022: Isabelle Huppert navigates the mysteries of romantic memory, which are woven into muddled layers by Laurent Larivière

Review: About Joan
Isabelle Huppert in About Joan

"It’ll help you to make memories” – “It’s closed” – “Don’t you remember? It’s a back-to-front handle. You have to turn it the other way". But as it turns out, the door to the garden of memories refuses to open and the key to this place of memory isn’t where they thought they’d hidden it anymore. For it’s into the meanders of memory, by way of a sophisticated and diverse system of interlocking flashbacks reconstructing his protagonist’s life, that Laurent Larivière plunges us in About Joan [+see also:
interview: Laurent Larivière
film profile
, which was unveiled in a Special Gala Screening at the 72nd Berlinale. Indeed, the German festival is set to hand out another Lifetime Achievement Golden Bear, this year honouring the career of the movie’s lead actress, icon Isabelle Huppert. But, in a twist of fate, the French star contracted Covid and found herself forced to cancel her trip to Berlin at the last minute, resulting in an absence which feels like a distant echo of the film itself, which never really goes where you expect it to and where images suddenly appear and disappear, just like in a dream.

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It’s night-time, we’re on the road, it’s raining, and Joan Verra (Isabelle Huppert) is at the wheel, telling her story and reminiscing. In her youth, she falls in love at first sight (the heroine is played by Freya Mavor at this point) with Irish pickpocket Doug (Éanna Hardwicke), a romantic idyl which sees her winding up inside the four walls of a prison before returning to France, pregnant and facing life as a single, unmarried mother. A few years later, her mother (Florence Loiret Caille in a small yet astonishing, Japanese-inspired role) decides to abandon her family. Now an editor, Joan takes a liking to non-conformist, German novelist Tim (Lars Eidinger). In the meantime, her only cherished son Nathan (played by Louis Broust, Dimitri Doré and Swann Arlaud successively) begins to grow up. And there’s also a surprise encounter with the now-aged Doug, because feelings don’t age within resurfacing memories which conceal countless others… But are they all true to life?

Playing with layers of time (courtesy of a screenplay penned by the director alongside François Decodts), About Joan is a far more curious work than its initially “conventional” appearance would have us believe. Indulging in several highly audacious, oneiric forays, and travelling from the Irish coast to the French countryside, by way of Paris and Cologne, the film turns out to be a strange and interesting cocktail of genres and keys. Isabelle Huppert carries the movie easily with her usual charisma, but the intellectual concept driving the narrative (memory and the reconstruction of memories) alters the story’s natural flow; dramatic moments appear out of nowhere as if fallen from the pages of a book. Obviously, in view of the fact that the protagonist is an editor, it all comes full circle (through a clearly stated agenda involving different types of repetition and relative emotional distancing) and, in a certain sense, the film fulfils its aim of reflecting the complex mysteries of the circle of life. But it also often leaves viewers on the other side of the glass.

About Joan is produced by Parisian outfit 2.4.7. Films, in co-production with Germany’s Gifted Films West and Ireland’s Blinder Films Limited. International sales are entrusted to Playtime.

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(Translated from French)

Photogallery 15/02/2022: Berlinale 2022 - À propos de Joan

22 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Laurent Larivière, Freya Mavor, Lars Eidinger
© 2022 Fabrizio de Gennaro & Dario Caruso for Cineuropa -,,,, Dario Caruso

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