Some films knock you sideways with unexpected brilliance and Maryline, retitled for the Alliance French Film Festival as Bright Weakness, is one of those. Heartfelt, subtle and unexpected, I could not look away from Adeline D’Hermy’s mesmerising performance.
Film festivals like this one are full of happenstance. Most films are unknown to me and I choose them often based on the most convenient session time. Arriving in Melbourne at 4pm, this was the first film that caught my eye. I didn’t know the director, Guillaume Gallienne or his previous film, Me, Myself and Mum (2014) so it was a risk and an adventure.
Maryline (D’Hermy) is an actor. Growing up in a provincial French village, Paris is her chance to escape the limitations of her country upbringing and make something of herself. Handpicked by a director, enamoured more by her looks than any sense of her talent, she quickly find herself out of her depth, bullied and unable to speak her lines. Fleeing, she finds every day work but can’t seem to escape the fear and rage that keeps her silent.
D’Hermy, a veteran of the Comedie Francaise and usually cast in secondary character roles in films, is sensational. She encapsulates the fragility and tenacity of Maryline as she’s lifted up and then buffeted by the circumstances of her life. Slowly we see glimpses of her childhood and understand the disappointments she has known and learned to internalise. She gets a chance to act again when a kindly director, Michel (Xavier Beauvois) hand picks her for a part and the lead actor (Vanessa Paradis) recognises her potential.
Having a voice is a metaphor that is woven subtly through the narrative. There are some standout scenes: the whispered rehearsal of her scene of anger and then the quietly powerful delivery; her mute shock as a glass of wine is thrown in her face and the movement of her thumb as she slowly taste the wine; and the final scene that gives you a glimpse in to her future.
Occasionally the story shifts forward in time with the little explanation and it takes a moment to define the context of where her life is now. This is done to best effect in the penultimate scene where Maryline must suffer the intrusion into her home of a boorish childhood friend and her husband. It seems to encapsulate her story; small town nobody trying desperately to have a life of meaning, despite all her setbacks. Deftly handled, it quietly and profoundly pulls together the threads of the narrative. Sublime.
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