Bright Weakness (Alliance Française French Film Festival 2018)
Adeline D’Hermy, Vanessa Paradis, Xavier Beauvois
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It is a marvelous show reel. It is an unsatisfactory film.
Maryline (Adeline D’Hermy) is an aspiring actor who travels from her rural home town to Paris in the hope of forging a successful career. When disaster strikes at her first attempt, she finds herself working in a postal office with a growing alcohol problem. Then, out of the blue, a second chance points her life in a new direction.
Bright Weakness takes a flawed, difficult protagonist and wraps itself entirely around her experience. In the lead role Adeline D’Hermy does a superb job of creating a three-dimensional and readily identifiable character. It is one of the best performances in a 2017 release. She is funny, sad, and easily relatable, and D’Hermy absolutely leads her audience into engaging with and hoping the best for the awkward and troubled Maryline. Unsurprisingly, writer/director Guillaume Gallienne crafted both the role and the entire film to showcase D’Hermy’s demonstrable talents.
She presents a finely portrayed protagonist, but also a maddeningly passive one. From first scene to last, she comes across weirdly as a spectator of her own life. The very first shot shows her attempting to complete a slightly surreal acting audition at the behest of an unseen director. At her first major acting opportunity she has an unexpected period, freezes up on camera, and gets relentlessly bullied by a prima donna German film director (Lars Eidiger). From there she is saved from a life as a miserable alcoholic by a kindlier director (Xavier Beauvois) and a surprisingly patient and supportive co-star (Vanessa Paradis). There is no real sense that Maryline has earned her second chance – or indeed her third, given how poorly she performs in this second opportunity at first try; she simply gets it and finds herself with the acting career she always wanted.
In focusing so closely on spotlighting on D’Hermy, Gallienne has neglected the film itself. The narrative is relatively flabby, pushing Maryline from one set piece to another without really providing an understandable sense of cause and effect. Things simply happen, and any viewer craving a traditional story structure is going to be frustrated. To her immense credit D’Hermy fills a lot of the gaps. Whether talking or not – usually not – she pours emotion and thought into Maryline. Her face is a masterpiece of reaction and upset throughout. Even when the film struggles, D’Hermy is constantly entertaining.
The film’s third act becomes particularly obtuse, with one scene playing out beneath a weirdly protracted question mark of whether we are watching Maryline’s own life or Maryline performing in a play. Another plays out as a deliberately theatrical dumb show. It all showcases D’Hermy perfectly and leaves you keen to see her in other films, but it also frustrates. It is a marvelous show reel. It is an unsatisfactory film.