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2014年11月28日 星期五

Le Beau Monde (High Society) (上流社會)

There are probably hundreds of films on the theme of adolescence "coming of age". In traditional tribal societies, the entry from adolescence into adulthood is often violent: the adolescent usually has to undergo a period of deliberate isolation, then perform some acts of "bravery" often involving completing some risky or dangerous tasks needed for the survival of the tribe, enduring certain physical and psychological pain in the process and when the ordeal is over is formally recognized, admitted and welcomed as a true member of the world of adults. But in contemporary society, there are no longer any kind of clear cut and socially recognized "rites of passage" marking such a transition from the adolescent world to that of the adult and for females, the lines of transition are even more blurry, vague and amorphous: perhaps signaled only by a dim awareness of a certain loss of "innocence" or loss of her  "virginity". It's seldom that we get a film portraying this often ambiguous, hesitant and confusing period for a young girl. But we have one such from Julie Lopes-Curval, who directed and co-wrote the script for her film with Sophie Hiet, deliberately produced, perhaps as her gesture of support for the feminist cause (?) by an all-female team "Le Beau Monde" (2014)

In many ways it's not just a simple "coming of age" film. It's one produced from a subtle, non non-judgmental viewpoint of a pair of sensitive feminine eyes. As the female form, it's all curves and only rarely rigid straight lines and rectangles:there are hardly any really "dramatic" moments. Like in many Chekhov's short stories or plays, it looks almost as if "nothing much happens". When the film starts, we find a rather diffident Alice (Ana Girardot) looking with a pair of sensitive, uncertain and subservient eyes at a traveling middle class lady engaged in the fashion business having a cup of coffee and some pastry in a small Bayeux (Normandy) café, Agnès Barthes (Aurélia Petit ) catching the latter's attention because of the very original tricotting and coloring of the woollen yarn of the pullover Alice was then wearing. As there were no other customers at that time, they got talking. When the conversation was over, Agnès perhaps out of a mix  of sympathy and magnanimity, agreed to write her a letter of recommendation which eventually enabled her to enter a prestigious school of applied arts in Paris in which Alice chose to work with woollen knits and embroidery.

As Agnés once said, maybe purely as a gesture of polite encouragement, that she would like to see more of Alice work, Alice took Agnes' words for real and/or perhaps as an explicit expression of her appreciation and a gesture of her gratefulness for Agnés' help, actually went to visit her with one of her latest creations. But, fortunately or unfortunately, as Alice did not make any prior appointment before actually visiting her, Alice missed her. Instead she met the towering, lean and handsome Antoine Barthes, Agnés' son. The body chemistry of the two seems right and a puppy love develops, based mainly on physical attraction and youthful passion. But it's not all smooth sailing as in a Cinderella story. Alice family is pure working class and to her, embroidery is a handicraft and a trade which will enable her upon graduation to find a job which provides a decent living and has little or nothing to do with the notion that art is a mode of self-expression arising from a human need to give form to certain ambiguous and vague sensations or feelings not otherwise expressible in any other way than by creating an esthetically satisfying or pleasing material form whilst Antoine comes from a rich family, living in an enormous and tastefully decorated mansion complete with a huge garden. He is groomed for a business career but his heart is set on photographic art. He seems genuinely interested  about art theory and art history, hangs around with artistic types, talks about artistic styles and trends and such writers as Kafka, appears to know all about great paintings and for such purposes has visited numerous museums when younger, speaks several languages and doesn't have to worry where the money is coming from for his summer vacation holidays in Mediterranean coasts or London or anywhere else that take his fancy or that of his parents. When summer vacation starts, Antoine offers to go on holidays with him to Brighton but Alice is forced to reject Antoine's offer because she got to find odd jobs to support her studies. When Alice visits Antoine, she always feels a wee bit intimidated and is never quite comfortable because she really doesn't belong there and maybe half a feet shorter vis-à-vis the already imposing and self-confident figure of Antoine.

Alice could not understand why Antoine wishes to photograph her low cost housing estate in which she and her family are living and that he should find what she considers as the dull, drab, dreary and ordinary people there "interesting", as if they were some "exotic" zoo animals and storms out at Antoine's photographic exhibition because Antoine used his photos of her mother and herself as exhibits without telling her in advance. To Alice the kind of "art" that Antoine is interested in is something quite remote from her accustomed way of life, which is all about survival and making enough to make ends meet and perhaps for this reason, Alice has a hard time trying to pass her embroidery exams because her professor keeps on telling her that her work is not creative enough and that she must use her embroidery to express feelings and to tell a story about life etc but all she could think of is Antoine and his physical relation to her. Fortunately, she finally passes her final examination and though with the greatest difficulties, manages to figure out some "theoretical" reasons to "justify" in academic fashion, the work she produces as her graduation piece: an embroidery intimately related to the shape of the female vagina as her mode of expressing her feelings as a woman, inspired no doubt by her physical relations with Antoine.

The only person with whom she could relate to more comfortably in Antoine's circle is Antoine's perfume making relative Harold (Sergei Lopez) who instinctively told Alice that he too started out at grassroot level and like her, enjoys working with his hands. Like Alice, he  feels and approaches the world of things through his skin, his nose as a perfume maker and not just with his brain, as Agnés nor with his eyes, as Antoine. Harold takes Alice her to see a friend's rather abstract and conceptual artistic embroidery about some primitive tribe but it doesn't seem to resonate with Alice, who remains firmly attached to her realist trade-craft idea about her embroidery "work" or production.

When the film ends, we find Alice, having left Antoine for about 3 years, rejoins him on the  beach in which they previously had such uninhibited and totally non-intellectual fun. She tells him that somehow she can't forget Antoine and Antoine also says he thinks of her some time too.  Will their love rekindle? If so, will such revived love be powerful enough to reduce that  invisible intellectual, artistic, personal, class and cultural distance and fill that yawning abyss which divided them in the past? Will she finally be able to find her place beside him, as an equal and not the subservient partner in a complex dominant-submissive male-female relationship? Could the female voice singing of a girl waiting for her lover to the tune of some simple folksong like strumming of the acoustic guitar as the screen fades at the final scene be Julie Lopes-Curval's hint of hope for happiness for Alice?