C’est la vie

(Diane Kurys, France, 1990)


Films about summer holidays, the loss of teenage innocence, and the emotional distance between parents and their children are certainly nothing new. American teen movies have run the gamut from the sophisticated sensitivity of Dirty Dancing (1987) to the madcap vulgarity of One Crazy Summer (1986).

Europe produces an equally unending stream of popular films about teenage experience, but Australia sees few of them. This situation perhaps makes C’est la vie, a bittersweet teenpic from France, seem more special than it really is.

The breakup of a marriage is seen through the eyes of the two children, teenager Frédérique (Julie Bataille) and her younger sister Sophie (Candice LeFranc). The year is 1958, and the balance between repressively polite social manners and emergent permissiveness is slowly shifting.

The changing times are particularly reflected in the transgressions of the mother, Lena (wonderfully played by Nathalie Baye), who takes a much younger, bohemian lover, Jean-Claude (Vincent Lindon). Left alone at the beach house, Frédérique and Sophie encounter boys, new friends, eccentric relatives and even a loveable stray dog.

Director Diane Kurys (Entre nous [1983], A Man in Love [1987]) specialises in stories of the heart that are rather soft-edged. Beyond a very small number of powerfully confronting moments, the film avoids tragic implications and instead opts for optimistic whimsy. ‘That’s life’ is a sentiment that fits the film perfectly.

© Adrian Martin September 1991

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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