Being dumped doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Suddenly becoming young, free and single can be an opportunity to take stock of your life, assess what’s working for you and what’s not, and make changes accordingly. Of course, this sort of accelerated personal reinvention following a jarring rupture in the everyday is not a million miles away from a nervous breakdown. Fittingly, the freewheeling antics of the star of Jeune Femme (or Montparnasse Bienvenüe, being confusingly referred to by both titles during its UK release), a wild and hilarious French romcom from writer/director Léonor Serraille, can be read as acts of self-actualisation or complete collapse.
We meet the 30-year-old Paula (Laetitia Dosch) as she hammers on the locked door of the Paris apartment she and photographer Joachim (Grégoire Monsaingeon) had shared together. She begins her drubbing with fists, and ends it with her forehead. She wakes up in a psych ward, dismisses the not-altogether-legitimate concerns of the doctor for her mental health, and legs it at the first opportunity, pinching the coat of a fellow patient. The scar on her forehead remains for the rest of the film, a physical reminder of the real damage and heartbreak that underpins the character’s more whimsical comedic moments. Set loose on the streets of an unfamiliar city, with nary a Euro to her name or any real life experience – her ex, a popular photographer from a well-off family who was significantly older than her, paid for everything – Paula attempts to scrape together an existence pour un.
” Fittingly, the freewheeling antics of the star of Jeune Femme… can be read as acts of self-actualisation or complete collapse.”
She does so through a cunning and willingness to mislead people that sees her blagging a job as a live-in nanny, going along with a stranger on a train who mistakes her for an old classmate, and striking up a potential rebound fling with Osman (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), a no-bullshit-yet-kind-hearted shopping mall security guard. It’s a whirlwind of a performance from Dosch. Both the vacillation between the extremities of her moods, and between rapid-fire speech and relative muteness, will be familiar to anyone who’s been through such a time of personal desolation and desperation.
The obvious, zeitgeisty touchstone for Paula’s antics and persona — messy, often unsympathetic, occasionally borderline sociopathic — are TV shows like Girls and Fleabag. However, Serraille’s filmmaking and comic sensibility, with significant handheld and a loose, fast-paced “realism,” has more in common with Greta Gerwig (think Frances Ha rather than Lady Bird) and fellow French director Philippe Garrel (whose recent Lover for a Day this film’s philosophising over love, heartbreak, and Parisian society often resembles). While it may not quite reach the emotional high notes that Gerwig and Phoebe Waller-Bridge manage with their respective works, Jeune Femme is possessed of an an energy and outré sense of humour all its own.
Jeune Femme/Montparnasse Bienvenüe, directed by Léonor Serraille, is out in UK cinemas now.
Image: Curzon Artificial Eye