You can see a mile off where French director Antonin Peretjatko is coming from: the cinephile tradition of classic French auteur theory, and especially the devotion to the fresh and frothy irreverence of the early Nouvelle Vague films. At heart, Mr. Peretjatko's feature debut La Fille du 14 juillet is a Nouvelle-Vague-ish take on screwball comedies, with the writer/director weaving a constantly shifting landscape of surreal, nonsensical episodes from a classic meet-cute scenario.

     The boy-meets-girl situation here has the unemployed and newly-graduated Truquette (Vimala Pons) bumping into museum guard Hector (Grégoire Tachnakian) through the match-making efforts of Truquette's friend and Hector's colleague Charlotte (Marie-Lorna Vaconsin) on a quiet Bastille Day at the museum. The story actually takes place a fortnight later, with Hector looking for an excuse to see her again and and using a vacation trip to the seaside to deploy a number of seduction attempts that are mostly foiled by his traveling companions but also by the French government's decision to foil the recession by pushing the return from holidays forward by one month.

     And this is where La Fille du 14 juillet goes seriously astray. It's not in the nonsensical humour, nor in the non-sequitur structuring that sees the plot move constantly back and forth and sideways, and not even the fairly obvious low budget and cast of unknowns. Rather, it's in the realisation that Mr. Peretjatko's attempt to reconcile topical social satire and Nouvelle Vague-inspired wit falls flat on its face because times have changed and the film doesn't seem to take that into account, borrowing far too liberally from Jean-Luc Godard's Sixties playbook. À Bout de souffle, Une Femme est une femme and Week-end are all quoted directly throughout, as are other filmmakers of the era (the press notes mention by name Jacques Rozier and Luis Buñuel, but Luc Moullet or Louis Malle's Zazie dans le métro wouldn't be out of the question as well). But the quotes come up to such an extent that the film becomes worrisomely unimaginative and overly in debt to its influences. Worse, Mr. Peretjatko seems to lack the buoyancy and spirit of the originals whose footsteps he's following on, and his film is much more visually dull and lifeless than Mr. Godard ever was even at his debut, with a couple of seriously awkward camera set-ups that jar the viewer far too obviously.

     As a result, most everything in La Fille du 14 juillet seems exceedingly derivative and heavy-handed, searching for a lightness of touch it never truly manages and that is only found in the delightful presence of Ms. Pons, who is a trained acrobat. Her easy-going charm and flightiness seem to embody what Mr. Peretjatko was looking for in his film but ended up passing by.

Cast: Vimala Pons, Grégoire Tachnakian, Vincent Macaigne, Marie-Lorna Vaconsin, Thomas Schmitt, Serge Trinquecoste, Esteban, Lucie Borleteau, Philippe Gouin, Pierre Méréjkowsky, Albert Delpy, Bruno Podalydès
Director, writer: Antonin Peretjatko
Cinematography: Simon Roca (colour)
Designer: Erwan le Gal
Editors: Carole le Page, Mr. Peretjatko
Producer: Emmanuel Chaumet (Ecce Films)
France, 2013, 88 minutes

Screened: Medeia Monumental 3, Lisbon, August 15th 2013


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