THE STORY – Raised by her father in rural France, a girl grows up to become a lonely woman who dreams of greater possibilities. Reckoning with her future, she soons gets swept away by a rakish young pilot who literally falls from the sky.
THE CAST – Raphaël Thierry, Juliette Jouan, Louis Garrel, Noémie Lvovsky, Ernst Umhauer, François Négret & Yolande Moreau
THE TEAM – Pietro Marcello (Director/Writer), Maurizio Braucci, Maud Ameline & Geneviève Brisac (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
A certain thrill can be found in a character study that takes a more lackadaisical approach to how it unfolds. While many may prefer their narratives to be tightly wound with a specific focus, the breezy nature of some of these tales can be compelling in their own right. Meandering through the passages of time in a manner that mimics reality can be a fascinating exercise to witness. However, this journey must also be guided by the hands of storytellers who keep in mind the true thematic value of what is presented. “Scarlet” indeed aims to inhabit this type of landscape that softly drifts through the lives of the people it analyzes but also struggles to maintain that sense of engagement.
The setting is the French countryside shortly after the First World War. Raphaël (Raphaël Thiéry) has returned from the battlefield a changed man and a lost soul back in his small village. He is now a widower and is tasked with raising his young daughter, Juliette. He struggles to readjust to his new normality but suffers every indignity to provide for his child. As Juliette ages into a young woman (Juliette Jouan), she becomes even more endeared to helping her father while also fantasizing about a grander life. She is obsessed with the words a witch in the forest told her, a prophecy that scarlet sails would sweep her away to greater fortune. She hopes this may come from Jean (Louis Garrel), a young pilot who crosses her path. However, the love she and her father are the driving force for their joy as well as their hardships.
On the surface, there is something quite inviting about the world that is presented here. Director Pietro Marcello has a keen eye for crafting a sense of intimacy with this environment, richly textured by the cinematography that perfectly evokes a more rustic and period-specific landscape. However, while the aesthetics are impressive, they do little to mask a more hollow emotional core. The storytelling splits its attention between father and daughter, but it is more frustrating to dissect than it is illuminating to witness. As such, these characters never really have the appropriate impact since the narrative does not settle enough with these perspectives. The exploration of their plights is disjointed in its assembly, and the muddled presentation of time’s passage only contributes to the sluggish pace. Tender moments are effectively showcased, and Gabriel Yared’s score is also lovely. Still, these instances are in service to an uneven tone that vacillates between gritty reality and whimsical fantasy, never quite successfully inhabiting either.
Thiéry brings to his role a reserved soulfulness that manages to become charming in many ways. It’s still not the most compelling portrayal in the film, as the emotional range is intentionally limited, but he fits well within these rugged surroundings. Jouan has a much more captivating presence, full of vitality and tenacity to escape the barriers forced upon a free spirit. She captures a daring yet delicate sensibility that commands one’s attention. Noémie Lvovsky plays the matriarchal figure of this family unit, the closest thing Juliette has to a living mother, and she is quite engrossing as well. She maintains a chilly yet alluring presence that is exceptionally deployed. Garrel is sadly not required to do much other than reinforce the appealing attractiveness of a larger world that awaits on the outskirts. For that, his purpose is served but not by much else.
Much can be appreciated from “Scarlet” on a level that values the artistry it brings to the screen. The sensual photography is a joy to behold, and some aspects of the story are an intriguing array of provocative introspections. Sadly, it is mostly a mundane exercise that does not reach the heights of fancy its characters perceive for themselves. Despite the handsome filmmaking and moving performances, the central messaging is messy and unfulfilling. The attempt to peer into this atmosphere is a disorganized presentation that lacks a cohesive spirit to truly resonate. One can be grateful for the potential of an interesting examination, but it is nevertheless unfulfilled.