The modern version of creating and utilizing new identities, both metaphorically and digitally, is a concept that is intensifying at a curiously rapid rate. Want to administer your own therapy session? You got it. We will soon have the ability to fracture our various selves into opposing characters through virtual reality in order to do so (this is a great read on the topic from The New Yorker), meaning the directive ‘practice what you preach’ will take on a whole new shape. Want to make a career on social media as an influencer without using even a smidgen of your own primary identity? You got it. Online ‘artificial intelligence influencers’ are a growing trend – which in reality are no more than digitally created selves, but also surely represent displacement of public responsibility from the creator to the created.
Creating new ‘selves’ for self-preservation (or otherwise) is of course far from new, and generally speaking the present day conversation around the topic is overwhelming focused around the proliferation of technology into our lives. The entertainment industry draws upon this modern human anxiety more and more, with titles like Ex Machina, Her, Westworld and Altered Carbon all springing to mind. Léonor Serraille’s debut feature Jeune Femme (titled Montparnasse Bienvenüe in some territories) goes well and truly contra flow here, taking a much more analogue look at the topic of identity.
Starring the profoundly talented Laetitia Dosch as Paula, the film follows her as she flails through the various stages of an identity crisis in the aftermath of a bad breakup. Paris is the setting for this story, where Paula arrived ten years prior and seems to have spent a lot of time being a full time muse to photographer Ousmane (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye), but very little time actually making friends with the city which is described as one ‘that does not like people’. She tries on various identities and ideals in an attempt to find one that fits her imperfect, vulnerable and heartbroken self most neatly; but it quickly becomes clear that none are true enough to stick. This dated take on a concept that is so often modernized *could* have been refreshing, especially when coupled with a roaringly strong performance from Dosch, but sadly the film does not pack enough punch elsewhere to give it any true depth beyond some in-the-moment smiles.
Jeune Femme is challengingly light on context. We are ultimately shown a series of effects, with virtually no cause. Why did they break up? Why is her relationship with her mother so broken? There are moments of uncomfortable physical violence and questionable sexual consent, which are probably the most impactful (and sadly culturally relevant) moments in the whole film, but we have no back story to allow us to form meaningful and informed opinions on what we’re seeing. If we as viewers cannot begin to define Paula and her experience, how can she? Or is that the whole point – is Serraille creating an environment for the viewer to live vicariously through Paula – in which the viewing experience is almost as rudderless as her life?
In trying to unravel Serialle’s intended viewing experience, many have described the film as ‘gently feminist’, but the adoption of very typical male and female stereotypes adds a major roadblock here. The successful photographer Ousmane is an older male (inequality in the industry remains a real problem), with the delicate, broken figure (Paula) a young female. This could just as easily be lazy film making or unfiltered reality, but either way the film would have been much richer had the roles been inverted.
Depending on the identity you wear to the film, you may well find your viewing experience altered.
3 out of 5
Enjoyable to watch in the moment, but disappointingly inconsequential in hindsight. Dosch’s performance is the gem of this film.