'Little Girl Blue' Review: Marion Cotillard Plays Troubled Mother in Powerful Personal Doc/Psychodrama Hybrid

‘Little Girl Blue’ Review: Marion Cotillard Plays Troubled Mother in Powerful Personal Doc/Psychodrama Hybrid

As tender, painful and intimate as an open caesarean section scar, the documentary-drama from screenwriter-director Mona Achache Blue girl examines the difficult relationships between three generations of women within the director’s own family, starting with his literary grandmother Monique Lange, his mother Carole Achache and herself.

Though narrated by Achache, who “plays” herself throughout, the focus is mostly on troubled mid-century child Carole, who committed suicide in 2016 and left behind a massive cache of letters, diaries, publications, photographs and documents. Achieving a remarkable casting coup that will make all the difference to the film’s commercial prospects while enhancing its emotional storyline, Achache coaxes French superstar Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose, Inception) to play Carole. The result is a fascinating psychodrama – with more meta scoop on top – that showcases the talents of all the women in history, especially Cotillard and Achache. At the same time, it sheds light on some of the darker parts of family life, especially the intricacies of mother-daughter love.

Related stories

Blue girl

The bottom line

A brutally honest family portrait.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (special screenings)
Launch: Marion Cotillard, Mona Achache, Marie Bunel, Marie-Christine Adam, Pierre Aussedat, Jacques Boudet, Didier Flamand
Director/writer: Mona Acheche

1 hour and 35 minutes

In what is obviously a theater set dressed up to look like an empty Parisian apartment, Mona Achache is encountered sifting through some of the many storage boxes her mother has left behind. She begins sticking and gluing photographs onto the walls, creating collages of material which over the course of the film begin to evolve into 3D sculptures, hung from the ceiling, which grow from the walls like bas-reliefs. In another room, thousands of books line the shelves, linking the set to Lange’s remarkable career at the center of French literary culture in the 1940s-1950s, as editor at Gallimard and herself a novelist and screenwriter, who wrote fiction, non-fiction, and memoirs, especially about his mother. Mona is able to draw not only on inherited family photographs but also on archival films showing Lange living among famous existentialists and artists on Paris’ left bank, from Albert Camus to Violette Leduc to Jean Genet, who has a crucial role in Carole’s film. history.

In a fairly shocking revelation, Genet is revealed to have manipulated young Carole, when she was about 12, into sleeping with one of her bisexual male lovers. Carole tried to talk her situation out to her mother, but Monique apparently sided with Genet rather than her son. Achache quotes vicious things Genet said about Carole later, and doesn’t come off well from this story, especially when another of his lovers, tightrope walker Abdallah, commits suicide—an event that further traumatized Carole, who had been close to he. Meanwhile, Monique’s husband Juan Goytisolo was also gay and often slept with men during their marriage, which apparently contributed to Carole’s confused ideas about love, relationships, and family.

When May of 1968 arrives, the now mature Carole is ready to bask in the free-thinking, free-loving spirit of the times. Mona displays countless photos of her mother’s nudes that Carole has been holding onto, showing a woman sassy about her sexiness even as there is a hint of sadness in her eyes. Later, in New York City, she became a prostitute, egged on by her partner at the time. It seems almost sudden when she becomes pregnant with Mona and mothers her, devoted to her children and living what appears, in the home movies seen here, to be a normal suburban life of birthday parties and baths. When she herself seeks to be taken seriously as a writer and experiences rejection from the literary establishment, despair is sown which is suggested to have contributed to her suicidal tendencies.

As the above suggests, it’s a pretty tightly packed series of stories nested within each other like matryoshka dolls, and Achache deliberately adjusts the editing, attributed to Valerie Loiseleux, to reflect that swirling swirl with images flickering in and out in an instant. . Sometimes these are podium shots of real people from the family archive, and sometimes clips of archival footage, such as a terrified little girl in black and white watching a performance in a circus to illustrate Carole’s reaction to her death by Abdullah.

Amidst it all, Cotillard plays Carole, dressed in Carole’s real clothes and chunky black pearls she wore every day towards the end of her life, her blue eyes covered in contact lenses to make them look as brown as Carole’s. . The gradual process of building this alternate Carole is shown from the very beginning, as Cotillard steps into herself, dressed in trendy designer clothes and an identity that hides a baseball cap, to meet Mona and accept the part. At first she lip-syncs to some of Carole’s recordings of her being interviewed, an eerie device reminiscent of both Clio Barnard’s documentary-drama The tree as well as Cotillard’s flawless lip-syncing with Edith Piaf in Through rose-colored glasses. (Strangely, Monique Lange wrote a biography of Piaf). two women.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is that it’s more about questions than answers, and it especially respects the mysteries surrounding Carole. She was clearly a deeply damaged and deeply disturbed woman whose ambitions had been frustrated and left unfulfilled, apart from her own ambition to be a good enough mother. That gift is repaid in kind by her director daughter, whom she forgives and tries to understand as best she can through her own ability to create art.