The Film: Ponette (1996)
The Principles: Jacques Doillon (Writer/Director). Victoire Thivisol. Delphine Schiltz. Matiaz Bureau.
The Premise: When her mother dies suddenly and tragically in a car accident, 4-year-old Ponette (Thivisol) is sent by her father to stay with her aunt and her two same-aged cousins where they‘re subsequently sent to a boarding school. All the while Ponette has to come to terms with her own grief over the loss of her mother.
Is It Good: So good. It’s so small and it’s so personal and the whole thing is told from Ponette’s point of view but it never feels diluted or filtered. And as it is told from Ponette’s point of view, there’s not a lot of, well, depth – she is a 4-year-old girl, after all. Her tiny little moments of doubt and pain and even heavier thoughts of existence and spirituality aren’t expanded or expounded upon for the sake of an adult audience – they’re Ponette’s and Ponette’s alone. It’s her journey and what makes it work and what makes it so powerful is in the fact that it’s one hundred percent honest. And that’s not as easy as you might think. The film doesn’t pull any punches and it doesn’t look away – this little girl’s life has fallen apart and she has no idea how to handle it. She’s essentially left alone with this burden and this hurt and this shattered, broken heart and the entirety of the film is spent with her trying to put it back together.
It’s sweet and sad and happy and devastating and heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time and by the time it‘s over you‘ll be a wet-cheeked mess. It’s good.
Is It Worth A Look: Definitely. Doillon does good work here – his framing of rural France is sparse and rather understatedly beautiful. It would have been so easy to let this thing become painfully maudlin, but it never does. That is indeed thanks in large part to Doillon, but the movie lives or dies based upon who you have cast in the lead and we got little Victoire Thivisol who was 4 years old when this was filmed – she was a revelation. I could describe her performance to the letter and you’ll swear I was hopelessly lost in a sea of hyperbole, but I’m not. I can’t think of many (if any) grown adult actors who could carry and SELL the emotion the way Thivisol does. She actually won Best Actress at that year’s Venice Film Festival, beating out several other classically trained adult actresses. If you had told me that Doillon had lied to her and told her that her own mother had died just before cameras started rolling I’d probably believe you.
Random Anecdotes: Our own Phil Nobile recommended this in our Netflix Instant Heads Up thread (it’s still available, by the way)…well, he more dared than recommended. And, as such, I went in expecting something that was traumatically devastating and, honestly, what I’ve written above may sell it as such. But it’s not. It’s not an endurance test and it’s not some emotional wrecking ball. I was a mess when it was over, but I loved it. I’d easily watch it again.
Cinematc Soulmates: I honestly really can‘t think of anything at the moment.