CLAIRE DARLING/ LA FOLIE DE CLAIRE DARLING, France, 2019. Starring Catherine Deneueve, Chiara Mastroianni, Alice Taglione, Laure Calamy, Amid Guesmi, Oliver Rabourdin, Johan Leysen. Directed by Julie Bertucelli. 104 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes).
This is the kind of film that you would expect from France, something of a domestic story, some human and some tragedy, with Catherine Deneuve in the lead. (And, something of a tribute to her, that she has been headlining films in France, but also internationally, for 55 years.)
Actually, the direct English title is misleading, especially with the evocative charm of the word “darling”. This title is merely partial. The French title adds “La Folie de”, which we might translate as “mad whim” or, at least, “foolish whim”.
And the whim opens the film, Claire waking up in the morning, deciding that this is the last day of her life, that she needs to set up a garage sale and get rid of everything in her house – and it is one of those fine houses, full of paintings, art objects, valuable pieces as well is knickknacks.
Obviously, Catherine Deneuve is at home in this kind of role. Claire is in her late 70s and is beginning to show signs of dementia. Out everything goes, her co-opting workers from the local quarry which her husband used to own, crowds gathering on and her getting rid of everything at extremely cheap prices.
But, we wonder, what has led to this. It means then the film incorporates quite a number of flashbacks, Alice Taglioni stepping in for the younger Claire. These flashbacks at first introduce her two children, Martin and Marie. It is also suggested that there has been a long estrangement from her daughter – who then turns up, concerned about her mother, linking again with her, and Marie herself going into flashbacks of the past. Interestingly, Marie is played by Catherine Deneuve’s actual daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.
As the day goes on, mother and daughter talk to each other, with flashbacks to their father at a crucial sequence where he physically collapses and Claire begins to phone for an ambulance, she remembering the story one way, her daughter remembering another.
Other characters include a friend of Marie from the past who is upset at the garage sale, wanting some kind of control for Claire. There is also the best friend of Claire’s son, Marie reassuring him that she did not blame him for the accident in the quarry for her brother.
While much of the screenplay suggest that this is ‘c’est la vie’, the ending is not quite what we expect but does include Claire visited by a priest friend and her asking him to perform and exorcism on her house – but, after Claire’s wandering on the street, collapsing, being taken to hospital, meandering out of hospital, it is simply boiling a kettle for a cup of tea while local fireworks light up the sky, that brings the story to its close.
Come to think of it,, tres, tres francaise.
Palace Released June 20th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.