The obvious starting point of comparison for Noah Baumbach's new film is Woody Allen's halcyon mid- to late-1970s period. After all, Frances Ha is a "New York story" shot in radiant, luminous black and white (take a bow, DP Sam Levy) and a loving paean to its star, Greta Gerwig, who is Mr. Baumbach's muse just as Diane Keaton was then for Mr. Allen. And, since it is named after its ditzy, quirky, free-spirited lead character, Annie Hall comes inevitably to mind. For all that, though, Mr. Baumbach's tale of a dancer about to hit 30 and yet to find a shape or a course for its life has more in common with his usual tales of broken people than it may seem at first sight, and especially with its previous and sorely underrated Greenberg (where Ms. Gerwig had a key role)

     Frances Ha can be seen as the positive mirror image of Greenberg - cool, understated, freewheeling where the previous film was burnt-out, sun-drenched, confused - but it remains a story of people unmoored, adrift, looking to rebuild their lives. In Frances' case, it's the long-dreaded moment when she finally can no longer hide behind her quirkiness and own up her life, grow up so to speak: after she has broken up with her boyfriend, and after her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) moves out. Frances' life starts tumbling down and practically demanding she put her ship in order: the dance studio she works with has no work for her, she starts downsizing to cheaper rental flats, life becomes a struggle just to make rent money - just like many of her contemporaries who have a hard time finding jobs they can relate to (as someone says at some point, "the only people in New York who can afford to be artists are rich").

     But if on paper all of this suggests a bitter sweet comedy that reflects, in more ways than one, the current state of affairs for those who face life without a safety net, on screen Frances Ha is something else entirely: a lighter-than-air yet thoughtful comedy, shot through with many stylistic touches that will remind cinephiles of the freedom and insouciance of the original Nouvelle Vague but that is, very clearly, its own, peculiarly American, very modernist film. All this is much helped by the bouncy, physical presence of Ms. Gerwig, an incredibly engaging comédienne who carries the whole project on her shoulders with effortless grace, poise and timing (no wonder Frances is a dancer). Mr. Baumbach does, however, create the space around her for Frances Ha to be a fully-fledged film rather than just an enchanting little bonbon; no matter how enticing the comparisons to Woody Allen or to the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers are, they're all extremely reductive when it comes down to the end result. Frances Ha is its own film - and a wonderful one at that.

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner
Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenwriters: Mr. Baumbach, Ms. Gerwig
Cinematography: Sam Levy  (b&w)
Music: Dean Wareham, Britta Phillips
Designer: Sam Lisenco
Editor: Jennifer Lame
Producers: Mr. Baumbach, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub, Rodrigo Teixeira  (RT Features, Pine District Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions)
USA/Brazil, 2012, 86 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2013 Panorama screening, Friedrichstadtpalast, Berlin, February 14th 2013; distributor advance press screening, Cinema City Campo Pequeno 3, Lisbon, October 1st 2013


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