Friday, May 29, 2015

Marguerite & Julien Review

'They love eachother so much, that nothing can separate them.'

Telling the story of an incestuous relationship between an aristocratic brother and sister, Marguerite and Julien is loosely based off the real life relationship between a brother and sister of the same name who were executed in 1603. Originating from a script written for Francois Truffaut in 1973, it made it into this year's Official Selection at Cannes.

Presented as a twisted children's fairytale told to a dormitory of young girls, it cannot be pin-pointed in any particular historical setting, blending as it does various historical periods through costume, set design and music. While for some this may detract from the story itself, the sheer passion that drives these two siblings in their quest for freedom may be enough to take your mind off the whimsy of it all. You may instead choose to see the anachronistic fusion of styles as a product of the children's imagination, seeing the story as a mishmash of fantastical realities in which horse drawn carriages and helicopters are equally common modes of transport. Its vintage feel and melodramatic plot give it a slightly Wes Anderson feel at times, but with a darker edge.


While its confusing mise-en-scene may not be to the liking of some, it has to be applauded for its originality both in its mismatched set and beautiful costume designs, as well as its various creative embellishments when it comes to filming and editing. A scene in which Marguerite (Anais Demoustier) faints after learning that she will never be allowed to see her family again sees an image of her brother ghosting by her unconscious body, only to pick up what is only a faded overlay of it in his arms and up the stairs. This, as well as the frequent use of iris shots and various other rarely seen editing techniques adds to the film's distinctive and unconventional visual style.

The film follows the siblings from childhood, introducing their relationship as it blossomed, with the early scenes featuring a spectacular sequence involving a horseback chase with both children, adding to the fairytale feel of the film, though ending with one of the poor injured beasts being shot within earshot of the young brother and sister, highlighting the more somber edge of their story from the very beginning. The two are later separated when Julien (Jérémie Elkaim) and older brother Philippe (Bastien Bouillon) are sent travelling around Europe to begin years of rigorous schooling. When they return, Marguerite is in awe, unable to suppress her ineffable relief and growing desire at Julien's presence, having waited for him for so long. Curiosity eventually gets the best of them both as they try to decipher each other's true feelings in secret. Things go from playful to flirtatious on the night of their parent's dinner party held in honour of Marguerite and her future husband, when they both excuse themselves to have some, er...time alone together.

Things get more complicated when Marguerite is forced to wed an older suitor, Lefebvre. Stuck in a miserable marriage and rejected by her family, Marguerite is forced to contact Julien in secret. As an audience we're made to root for these young protagonists, however anything meaningful Donzelli wanted to say about incest is lost. At times the film feesl like a missed opportunity to make a comment on such a taboo subject, with the siblings' mother, Madame de Ravalet making many an unexplained, contradictory decision. She pushes and pulls her beloved offspring in a thought process that we can only imagine is torn between the love she feels for her children, and the pressures of a society which will not condone a relationship that is seen as inherently wrong and sinful. While this could have been used as a means of addressing themes of parenthood and societal pressure, we instead find ourselves going back and forth too, undecided as to who are sympathies lie with the most: Jean and Madame de Ravalet, or their persecuted children.


All in all, the story is beautifully crafted and told, and despite its ambiguity towards its subject matter, it makes for an interesting watch, or even two. Its main flaws would probably be its lack of appropriate stance on what wouldn't usually be considered particularly 'light' subject matter, despite the fairytale manner in which it's addressed, and the lack of intimate dialogue between the two protagonists, something that could have helped us understand them as more than just two-dimensional characters. More direct dialogue between them both could have made for a more intricate and insightful glance at their feelings and motivations, with explanations helping to shed light on an interesting yet rarely touched upon topic.