One of a series of young contemporary directors working "off-format", outside the conventional strictures of genre and length, French filmmaker Virgil Vernier melds documentary and fiction in this hour-long character study set in the French town of Orléans around the festivities in honour of Joan of Arc. It's his ninth film in a 12-year career that has seen him move between short, medium and feature-length projects, between documentary and fiction, always observing the slightly off-key rhythms and modern life.

     Here, the initial premise takes place inside a strip club, where a number of girls share thoughts and gossip while preparing for the night to begin. Two stand apart, though, practising around the tiny stage's pole, and we soon realise they're apart by design and decision: the veteran Sylvia (Julia Auchynnikava) prefers to mind her own business and shows a few steps to the rookie Joanne (Andréa Brusque), who claims this is only a brief step before she moves to Paris to follow her dreams of being a dancer. They're sharing a room in a hotel across the street, where Sylvia asks Joanne if she really believes she will leave Orléans behind. All of this seems to be pure documentary, but as we follow the two girls on their daily pursuits through the city, visiting the local fun fair and meeting a girl who is portraying Joan of Arc in the festivities' climactic pageant, it becomes clear that Mr. Vernier is actually disguising a fictional kernel inside the appearance of documentary.

     The naturalistic performances, lensing from a distance and lenghty observational takes create an illusion that is particularly appropriate to the theme of the film: the distance between hope and reality, faith and resignation, how the daily routines end up crushing or dulling the wishes and desires for a better future. Just like Joan had to struggle to prove her worth in a much less patriarchal society, so do Joanne and Sylvia have to struggle to exist beyond their pre-determined role as trippers. For all that, Orléans never really soars; seemingly more of a half-finished sketch or an embryonic, undeveloped concept rather than a completed film, it's a slight but intriguing object that suggests Mr. Vernier is up to interesting if not yet fully understandable things.

Cast: Andréa Brusque, Julia Auchynnikava
Director and writer: Virgil Vernier
Cinematography: Tom Harari (colour)
Editors: Eulalie Korenfeld, Emma Augier
Producer: Jean-Christophe Reymond (Kazak Productions)
France, 2012, 59 minutes

Screened: IndieLisboa 2013 official competition streaming screener, Lisbon, March 26th 2013


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