Saturday, June 22, 2024

“THE BALCONETTES”

THE STORY – Three women in a Marseille apartment gets stuck in a heat wave. They find themselves trapped in a terrifying affair and longing for freedom.

THE CAST – Noémie Merlant, Souheila Yacoub, Sanda Codreanu & Lucas Bravo

THE TEAM – Noémie Merlant (Director/Writer) & Céline Sciamma (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes


For her second directorial feature, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” star Noémie Merlant boldly supports the #MeToo movement with female rage in her bloody, revenge horror-comedy, “The Balconettes,” written in collaboration with Céline Sciamma. The story follows a trio of female friends navigating relationships, sexuality, and careers. Nicole (Sanda Codreanu) is a shy writer who dreams of beginning a romance with her mysterious neighbor Magnani (Lucas Bravo) and even uses him as inspiration for her book. Ruby (Souheila Yacoub) is a free-spirited camgirl who supports her friends by any means necessary. Finally, there is Élise (Merlant), a working actress with relationship problems due to a domineering partner. Through this trio, Merlant stresses the importance of sisterhood and female support.

“The Balconettes” first plays out like a lighthearted tale about women who have had enough of the abuse they put up with in relationships. In the opening sequence, Merlant focuses on a woman coming back into consciousness with a vengeance. The upbeat, bouncy music informs the audience of a humorous tone by which Merlant desires to tell her story. After the woman awakens due to her partner throwing cold water on her, she immediately fetches a mini shovel and slices open the back of his head. When that doesn’t do the trick, she grabs a pillow, places it over his face, and sits on it until he draws his last breath. Presumably, this woman has suffered at the hands of her partner, but she finally takes matters into her own hands to break free from the cycle. This fiery start to Merlant’s feature sets the tone for what’s in store for her audiences. With style and audacious storytelling, “The Balconettes” is an exciting and hypnotic tale of female rage.The way in which Merlant chooses to expand upon female rage as a result of abuse is some exciting work. The writer-director-actor is very clear on evolving her characters from women who feel trapped by men’s desires to women who take back their agency. Whether it’s by promenading around Marseille topless or wearing very little clothes in general, Merlant’s characters represent a progressing feeling of freedom when the darkness of abuse no longer haunts them. This is exemplified after Magnani, the photographer across the street, invites the trio back to his flat for a party and offers to take their pictures. What begins as a playful night of drinking and dancing ends in trauma when Nicole and Élise wake up to discover Ruby basked in blood. It’s up to these women to take matters into their own hands, all while handling their responsibilities and avoiding the authorities in the process.

Merlant’s second feature comes with rapturous storytelling and an artistic representation of themes related to abuse, body autonomy, and confidence. For these three women, they experience abuse and sexual violence in different forms, forcing them to manage their new realities and adapt to their new mental states. For Nicole, that means attempting to handle the guilt even as she’s haunted by ghosts of men killed by women. Here, Merlant plays around with the horror genre while also maintaining a sense of humor in her sequences. “The Balconettes” recognizes the complexities in life when it comes to the existence of women. Despite the humorous undertones, Merlant’s direction to represent the friend group’s ongoing struggles comes with an empathetic lens. The filmmaker recognizes that different coping mechanisms are crucial to her storytelling and incorporates them adequately.

Although it is mostly entertaining, “The Balconettes” contains some misfires in practicality. What’s often said in dialogue is frequently ignored or forgotten about to keep its humorous tone. This is far from a deal breaker, however. Merlant knows that effective filmmaking means keeping your audiences engaged, and to do that, she spends a fair amount of time unraveling the mystery of the traumatic night with detail and entertainment, all while giving plentiful screentime to each character to maintain her thematic storytelling. However, the more paranormal elements in the film aren’t entirely successful. But leave it to Merlant to abandon subtlety in her storytelling as she is not interested in tip-toeing around a world full of abusive men to avoid hurting feelings.

There’s no doubt that “The Balconettes” will generate fans, and rightfully so. The feature is vibrant in capturing female friendships when it’s a unity for female rage. With assertive storytelling and a blatant interest in autonomy when it comes to relationships and sexuality, Merlant’s directing pairs well with her support of the #MeToo movement. Simultaneously, the storytelling never feels bogged down by a need to resist the realities of womanhood. Instead, it fully embraces and expands upon it. Riddled with important thematic elements and a beautiful center story on female friendships, Merlant truly has a hit on her hands. And if this second feature is anything close to Merlant’s future as a filmmaker who explores stories about women, the industry will be in capable and reliable hands.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The story, while a familiar one, tackles serious themes while offering playful undertones to capture the attention of its viewers. Merlant’s direction shows that her creative style comes with thematically-driven storytelling and bonafide entertainment.

THE BAD - The script often relaxes when it comes to plausibility even though the dialogue focuses on moments and actions that require follow-through. The paranormal elements don’t always work in execution.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The story, while a familiar one, tackles serious themes while offering playful undertones to capture the attention of its viewers. Merlant’s direction shows that her creative style comes with thematically-driven storytelling and bonafide entertainment.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The script often relaxes when it comes to plausibility even though the dialogue focuses on moments and actions that require follow-through. The paranormal elements don’t always work in execution.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"THE BALCONETTES"