Sunday, May 19, 2024

“THIS LIFE OF MINE”

THE STORY – Barbie, once an attractive, devoted mother and partner, faces newfound challenges as she turns 55, descending into darkness, violence, and absurdity while grappling with her identity, relationships, and life’s complexities.

THE CAST – Agnès Jaoui, Angelina Woreth & Édouard Sulpice

THE TEAM – Sophie Fillières (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes


The 55th edition of the Director’s Fortnight (Quinzaine des Cinéastes) at the Cannes Film Festival opened with “This Life of Mine” (or “Ma Vie Ma Gueule”). The film arrives tinged with sadness, as writer/director Sophie Fillières died in 2023 from a long illness just after shooting wrapped (Her children completed the post-production process). This adds extra depth to the story of a woman who, like Fillières, is confronting health problems in her late 50s and deciding how to deal with the consequences. It is a testament to her artistic ambition and positivity that Fillières honored her own struggles by incorporating them into her art, even if the art itself cannot do justice to all that she wished to say.

Our lead character, Barbie (endearingly played by Agnès Jaoui), is doubtlessly named to contrast her fortunes with the sunny disposition of Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the world’s favorite doll. She says “Hi Barbie” to herself once in the mirror, but her life is no pink-gilded dance party. Barbie is a poet-turned-advertising executive, but as we watch her go through her daily routine, something is off, and it’s unclear why. Shot in unfussy handheld by DoP Emmanuelle Collinot, the camera scarcely looks away from Barbie, like the character and the film are in denial of any outside forces bearing down on her. After the gym and a therapy session, Barbie has awkward run-ins with her work colleagues and her teenage daughter (Angelina Woreth), both of whom hum with unspoken histories. Barbie is separated from her unseen husband, but the history of these characters is drip-fed to us slowly. The first act of “This Life of Mine” is the strongest, as Fillières builds context with patience and a knack for dark humor. Social misunderstandings and Barbie’s (often failed) attempts at jokes keep the audience off guard. As Barbie’s encounters become more random, culminating in meeting an old friend (Laurent Capelluto) she barely recognizes, our concern grows for her, even if we’re not entirely sure why that is.

If the opening act of “This Life of Mine” held promise in its slow-build tension, the second act sees most of that promise dissipate as the narrative adopts a more conventional shape. After a collapse, Barbie wakes up in a mental health clinic due to a relapse of her health issues. This shift into a vaguely award-baiting drama is a jarring departure, and it’s not nearly as compelling as the first act. The element of surprise is replaced by a slower pace and grounded tone that might be narratively inevitable, but which sits uncomfortably next to the first act. Despite this, there are moments of genuine emotion, as Barbie interacts with her daughter and son and her nurses become her main source of interaction. While this shift in tone may be dissatisfying, Jaoui’s dignified and deeply empathetic performance keeps the film afloat. Fillières intended to present a dignified and meaningful portrayal of mental health with a view to destigmatizing it, and Jaoui clearly grasps that intent. It’s just unfortunate that it comes at the expense of the overarching story.

One consistent thread that runs through “This Life of Mine” is Barbie’s unwavering creativity. She’s constantly jotting down ideas for new poems on any available piece of paper. This creative spirit propels the final act, as Barbie’s children arrange for her to be discharged so she can embark on a solo journey. This act injects some joy into the latter part of the film, but it feels somewhat forced after the naturalistic style and more subdued tone of the preceding scenes. Any semblance of believability evaporates as Barbie boards a ferry, and the audience becomes more concerned than her own children. While it’s heartwarming to see Barbie strive for a greater sense of personal happiness, it’s Jaoui’s performance that ultimately carries the film through its contrivances.

As a final statement, “This Life of Mine” is a charming piece, with Fillières advocating for a deeper understanding of illness, loneliness, and the necessity of creative expression. It’s a shame, however, that the film struggles to consistently deliver this message. Perhaps if it had adopted a triptych structure, with three distinct narratives centered around Barbie, the tonal awkwardness could have been resolved. Nonetheless, a standout performance by Jaoui and some insightful moments manage to carry the film through.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Sharp writing and a brilliant performance by Jaoui make Barbie a character you really root for.

THE BAD - The film is structurally contrived and tonally indecisive.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Sharp writing and a brilliant performance by Jaoui make Barbie a character you really root for.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The film is structurally contrived and tonally indecisive.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"THIS LIFE OF MINE"