We have already taken a look at actress-turned-director Anne Le Ny’s My Father’s Guest as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2011, and Nicole Garcia is a similarly seasoned actress that has made the transition to behind the camera. Born in French Algeria, the actress-director was the inspiration for a character in “L’Inceste” (1999), a novel by Christine Angot and had her 2006 film, Selon Charlie, entered into the Cannes Film Festival. Although continuing to act, most recently appearing in Katia Lewkowicz’s Pourquoi tu pleures?, her most recent directorial effort is perhaps inspired by her French Algerian background.
Marc Palestro (Jean Dujardin, Little White Lies) is a high-flying real estate agent in Aix-en-Provence. Happily married to Clotilde (Sandrine Kiberlain, Mademoiselle Chambon) and the proud father of an eleven-year-old girl. When closing a sale on a large property, he meets a beautiful investor, who he recognises as Cathy (Marie-Josée Croze, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), a friend from his childhood in Algeria. After spending the night together, she disappears on him – and this is only the beginning of the mystery.
A View of Love (Un Balcon Sur La Mer) covers, via flashback, a period of French history that was naturally something of a sensitive issue for the French. Cinema hasn’t taken huge amounts of opportunities to explore the Algerian War, with the notable exceptions of Gillo Pontecorvo’s renowned The Battle of Algiers (1966), Hollywood’s Lost Command (also 1966) and Jean-Luc Godard’s The Little Soldier (1960, but released 1963). Yet despite placing this unconventional love story-cum-thriller across several decades, and giving part of the story the backdrop of the Algerian War, very little is gained – or more aptly felt – by using this period as a part of the story. Indeed, its inclusion is almost incidental to the main narrative, as the crucial and relevant memories of childhood are able to be placed anywhere in history. While it is laudable that Garcia has used her own heritage and this important part of French history as an element in this film, it would smack of sensationalism if the film wasn’t in desperate need of a few smacks of sensation along the way.
One never gets a sense of Algeria as a place or its importance in the lives of two people who seem to have gone on to great success despite their childhood tragedies. Unlike Festival stable-mate Outsides the Law (Hors la loi) More significantly, the lead characters are just as distant from the audience as this period of history will be for the majority of people born in the last half-century, and the characters are quite poorly defined. The generally warm Marie-Josée Croze projects a coldness throughout much of the film, and it is often difficult to understand what it is (beyond the obvious physical attraction) that compels Marc to pursue her so completely. Likewise, Marc seems to have no qualms about leaving a wife and child for days on end, neither of whom seem to notice that anything is out of the ordinary. What could have been a simple thriller is overly complicated by needless detail added in the last half of the film, and an unsatisfactory conclusion. Perhaps Garcia was making a point that there could be no happy ending for this star-crossed coupling, but in doing so has left the audience without any reason to care beyond the credits.
The Reel Bits: A disappointing outing from a cast that has done better, and a lack of character development makes this a fairly standard ‘thriller’ on all counts. While it is pleasing to see Algeria being discussed more in French cinema, this is not the film that will open anybody’s eyes to the atrocities on both sides of the fence.
A View of Love is screening as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2011.