Eyes on Screen are now proud to acknowledge the Lincoln Film Society. The Society is a voluntarily run, not-for-profit organisation. Each year, they organise a programme of screenings, offering the very best of contemporary world cinema. This allows beautiful films with little or no exposure to take centre stage in Lincoln. For their 2016-17 season, Eyes on Screen will be reviewing each film screened. For more information on the Lincoln Film Society, please visit their website. For the latest news, you can also like their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter.
The following review is of Attila Marcel (France: 2013) – screening #9 of the Society’s 2016-17 season, shown on Friday 25th November 2016.
A mute pianist, two eccentric aunts and a quirky neighbour with a remedy to recall suppressed memories in the form of obscure musical numbers; all together a somewhat quaint recipe for a film. Though that is not to say Sylvian Chomet’s Parisian daydream is all sugar sweet. It does, however, provide a stunning and immersive backdrop for a film that hides some much deeper and far more intimate themes behind its pastel shroud.
Attila Marcel follows the story of Paul (Guillaume Gouix), an introverted young man who, after the tragic death of his mother and father, was forced into a life of piano recitals and awkward afternoon tea parties with his aunts’ array of eccentric friends. Paul is happy yet lives unfulfilled, his silence a result of the childhood trauma he faced and the thing keeping him from ever being able to question the truth behind his parent’s deaths. Though the peaceful life Paul’s aunts have created for him is challenged when he begins to form a bond with the resident apartment building crazy lady, Mme Proust (Anne Le Ny).
With the help of Mme Proust’s rather questionable concoction of madeleines and herbal tea, Paul is able to drift into a comatose state in which he recalls what past childhood experiences lay dormant in his mind, admittedly somewhat humorously. With each dream brings a grand musical sequence and such incidences are where Attila Marcel excels with its charm.
Attila Marcel’s comedy doesn’t miss a beat. From the moment Paul first finds himself in the company of Mme Proust, to each and every miscommunicating dinner party with his aunts, the subtle glances passed between characters and effortless one-liners make for a thoroughly entertaining watch. It’s the performances that make this movie, with each actor bringing an uplifting form of comedic delivery, but particularly from Guillaume Gouix.
However, Chomet’s story isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and gradually as Paul’s memories begin to unfold, we find out what sort of negative impression his father left upon him and how being witness to his father’s domestic abuse against his mother may have in fact damaged Paul from the earliest stages of his life.
The ever-shifting transition between witty comedy and emotional discovery provides for an entertaining watch, though I was left rather deflated as the movie ended in a rushed final act. It was a disappointment, given the positively fluid pace of the film up until the final fifteen minutes, in which storylines were hurried into their conclusion. The most notable offender here was the all-too forced romance between Paul and the daughter of his aunts’ friend. This appeared to simply present a contrast between the characterisation of Paul and his father.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, the death of Paul’s parents was, in every sense of the word, tragic. The way in which this otherwise upsetting and tense scene was executed had me struggling to decide whether or not it was appropriate to laugh. The setup came across as little more than a comedic slapstick sketch that could just as easily be found within any episode of the Looney Tunes. Some may choose to disagree, of course, and find the way in which the scene was tackled to be imaginative. However, to me the timing was insensitive and did nothing but disrupt the well-maintained balance between comedy and an artistic (and respectful) interpretation of family conflict and domestic violence.
Despite these flaws – appearing mostly in its rushed ending – Attila Marcel remains an incredibly enjoyable film which succeeds in both its presentation of character and comedic timing. Moreover, accompanied by a simplistic soundtrack and a pleasing array of colour palates, Attila Marcel is audibly and visually sweet; a real treat for the eyes and ears.
Written by Emily O’Neill