A young girl, Paula, is having a mental breakdown, banging her forehead on the front door of an apartment. Later we will realise that she’s lost and broke – financially and psychologically – after living in South America for 10 years. The photographer whose muse she has been for the last decade likes to have control over her. First – when they get back to Paris – abandoning her completely and later wanting her back no matter what.
Understandably, she – homeless and jobless with nobody to rely on – takes advantage of other people, too. She doesn’t decline the opportunity to rekindle her friendship with an old school peer, a much more successful lesbian girl named Yuki who lives in Berlin now, in order to use their history and the sexuality of the Berlin girl to her benefit. In another scene, we see Paula literally clinging to the banister at her mother’s house. First and foremost, she is a girl who is in desperate need of – besides money and a place to live – some close relationships.
For all the drama and insight of today’s ‘generation internship’, Léonor Séraille’s Caméra d’Or-winning movie (in Cannes’s ‘Un Certain Regard’ section) is much more of a comedy than it is tragedy. This is due to Lætitia Dosch performance in the role of Paula: she plays this girl’s humorous resistance to the difficulties of life in such a subtle way, preventing the character from becoming an irrational clown or a self-absorbed cynic. Instead, she embodies the vulnerability of the character at certain times: when Paula gets fired from an au pair job she begins to cry while simultaneously, playfully hiding her face behind her long red hair. Paula wants to bring an easy lightness to life, but gets her wings broken again and again by reality.
The viewer can also sense that she has the feeling of having missed out on something; to have lost her twenties to being a muse for an artist who has been playing with her and still does. She lies about being a university student when she applies for the au pair job and later she directly tells the photographer that she wants to go to university and study literature, to which he answers – laconically – that he has never seen her finish reading a book. Besides her broken relationship with her mother, her relationship with this artist seems to be an essential part of her fragmented life: he inflicts emotional and later in the film even physically abuse on her, while claiming ownership over her body and her mind. Paula is at some point in the film asked “Why do you stay in Paris? It’s because of him, right?” – she doesn’t answer verbally but Lætitia Dosch gives her answer with her body instead.
Underneath the individual story of Paula there’s a general criticism of the lack of social mobility in today’s modern, western societies, a critique of life in a big European city, if you haven’t ‘made it’ yet. There is this scene in which Paula is talking to her colleague arguing that while Paris is beautiful, “it doesn’t like people”, that it isn’t made for living – at least if you’ve got nothing, one might want to add. There is Yuki, who’s living in Berlin, which is portrayed in the film – one can rightfully argue – as an alternative to cities like Paris or London. A city where you can still make it, even if you haven’t much. Léonor Serraille has made a very funny, but also thoughtful and thought-provoking movie that shows the audience how it is to live in a European capital today, if you’re still figuring out what you want in life. A film thats worthy of a ‘Caméra d’Or’ and certainly worth more than just one look, just one ‘certain regard’.