The irreverent vitality of “About Joan”

It’s no longer the now usual wave that hits cinemas every Wednesday, to the great disadvantage of cinemas and films (and spectators, and cinema), it’s a tsunami. This Wednesday, September 14, no less than 21 new movies have been released on French screens.

Among them, in addition to two truly singular proposals in terms of the relationship to reality, the imaginary and the present time, important works threatened with marginalization, Babi Yar. context by Sergei Loznitsa, and See you Friday, Robinson by Mitra Farahani, we find the whole range of films rather called entertainment (French) or auteur (Portuguese, French, Romanian, Argentinian, two Ukrainians…), without forgetting an assortment of documentaries, an American horror film , a British comedy, animated film.

In the midst of this all-comers multiplied by the absence this week of a Hollywood blockbuster – nothing in sight on this side before October, the romcom Ticket to Paradise and the superhero movie black adam– appears an unexpected film, by its tone and a kind of bravery in its way of always being a notch above, or next to, what its pitch promised or the category to which it seemed to belong.

Between mystery and wink, the opening plans ofAbout Joanwhere Isabelle Huppert driving addresses the camera frontally like Belmondo in Breathless, draw a territory, a little transgressive, a little heir to a history of modern cinema. Inhabited by uncertain presences and welcoming ghosts, the second feature film by Laurent Lariviere evokes a hopscotch to play and move around.

The boxes of this hopscotch are temporal, the film circulating between three periods of the life of Joan, a teenage girl in Ireland, a successful publisher accompanying an ostensibly literary genius. destroy and frequenting the alternative rock scene in Berlin, and finally a mature woman taking refuge in an old family home in the French countryside.

Young Joan (Freya Mavor) and her Irish pickpocket lover (Eanna Hardwicke). | High and short

These jumps, which are more like sliding steps, are not only between eras, but just as much in the mood that governs each situation, during the meetings of the main character (Freya Mavor for the young girl, Isabelle Huppert for the other two ages) with the three male figures who marked his life: his childhood sweetheart, his son Nathan, the German writer.

Echoes and spiritualism

These three mentions could rightly arouse echoes in an attentive ear with the cinema of Arnaud Desplechin, which is undoubtedly the most obvious reference of the spirit which guides the progress of the film, beyond explicit quotations like the one from Pickpocket by Robert Bressonor above all the recurrence of this major motif of French cinema which is the family home – and what should be done with it.

About Joan is built on a subtle screenplay, performed by excellent actors (Swann Arlaud, Lars Eidinger) and an actress who we no longer know how to say she still has genius, Isabelle Huppert. All this is not enough, never was enough to make a good film.

Joan who tries to control Tim, the punk writer (Lars Eidinger), while being seduced by him. | High and short

We do not know what it is, “a good film”, we can just take note when it comes. In this case, it is largely due to a singular phenomenon of doubling, on the fringes of spiritualism: doubling of the way in which About Joan is staged and of the way of being of the woman whose story it tells. A film that resembles its main character, therefore.

Respect a person

Scene after scene, shot after shot, Laurent Larivière finds the possibility of a lightness, of a vibration that destabilizes situations, offers an unexpected breath to what seemed to fall under convention, or deja-vu.

And this reinstated freedom is precisely what is at stake in Joan’s journey, what puts her and keeps her in motion, a stubborn affirmation where morals, legality, good customs, psychology and other proprieties (including cinematographic) have no hardly any space.

It is not a question here of an apology for transgression, but of a way, by the realization as by the story, and of course the interpretation, of accompanying the flows of life without judging them, according to some system whether it be.

It will be a question of respecting a character as a person, and not as a model or as a type. Who will ask the question of looking for equivalents in production will see that it is far from frequent.

This is how what seemed to be a proposal coming from the center so often frozen and conformist of French fiction invents step by step its own dynamic, poetic and moving.

Jean-Michel Frodon’s film reviews are to be found in the show “Cultural Affinities” by Tewfik Hakem, Sundays from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on France Culture.

blankAbout Joan

by Laurent Lariviere

with Isabelle Huppert, Swan Arlaud, Lars Eidinger, Freya Mavor


Duration: 1h41

Released September 14, 2022

The irreverent vitality of “About Joan”