Making Plans for Lena
Details: (MA15+), 105 mins, France,
Synopsis: Léna (Chiara Mastroianni) is a young, unemployed mother of two who has left her partner and valiantly soldiers through life as best as she can. But she is as confused by her needs and desires while her family and friends seem certain of theirs. When she heads from Paris to her parents' bucolic home in Brittany for the holidays, she's thrown to the mercy of her supportive but oppressive family, who one by one begin to dish out unsolicited advice.
Make other plans.
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: A flinty, harried lead performance by Chiara Mastroianni and a hit-&-miss approach to bourgeois familial politics, mark the highs and lows of Christophe Honore’s Making Plans for Lena. Expanding upon the issues he explored in 2006’s Dans Paris, Honore displays a slightly more ambitious – though far less assured – touch with his characters, working from the script he co-wrote with novelist Genevieve Brisac (making her script-writing debut).
There is a free-flowing, almost improvised feel to the interactions of an extended brood dealing with one sibling’s marriage breakdown. The film offers moments of insight, but the thought of an overnight stay with this eccentric, self-centred bunch – even in the beautiful countryside of Brittany – is chilling. 105 minutes was more than enough...
We first meet Lena in a crowded train station, frantically searching for her son Anton (Donatien Suner), with her young daughter Augustine (Lou Pasquerault) flailing by her side. They are bound for a family gathering at the rural estate of Lena’s parents: the fiercely matriarchal Annie (Marie Christine Barrault) and her terminally ill husband, Michel (Fred Ulysse). An awkward flashback sequence reveals that Lena has left her husband Nigel (Jean-Marc Barr) and is struggling with her newfound independence.
Emotional screws are tightened when the rest of the family converges on the rustic manor and offers support for, and frustration at, Lena’s predicament. The arrivals include: Lena’s pregnant, chain-smoking sister Frederique (Marina Foïs); her bohemian brother Gulven (Julien Honore, the director’s brother); his girlfriend Elise (Alice Butaud); and, most dramatically, Nigel.
It isn’t a happy home and none of the accompanying dramatics are much fun to watch. Lena clashes with everyone – some with good reason, some because she’s so overwound – and the steady stream of glaring confrontations, raised voices, hushed secrets, slamming doors and long-on-the-boil sibling tensions all become a tad soapy. Honore throws some arty pretense into the midst of all this with a medieval interlude that recounts a frigid maiden’s proclivity for poisoning her suitors through dance, though its link to Lena’s state-of-mind seems tenuous, and the whole sequence self-indulgent.
Fleeing the countryside for the bustle of Paris, Lena reignites a love affair with Simon (Louis Garrel), but it merely represents an emotional clutching-at-straws, and the encounter further unravels her sanity. Mastroianni pulls out all stops in the final moments of the film and one’s take on her histrionics will depend entirely on how much you have invested in Lena’s plight to this point. Daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve, the languid, auburn beauty could very convincingly be cast as Katie Holmes’ older sister.In key moments, Mastroianni successfully embodies Lena’s razor’s-edge emotional state. But she is asked to over-reach by a director cursed with a heavy narrative hand, and the result is a performance as uneven as the rest of the film.
Co-author Brisac proudly boasts on her website that she grew up “in a family of leftist intellectual Anglophiles”, and one certainly gets a sense that she drew upon past experiences to flesh out extended sequences in Making Plans for Lena. And Honore, presumably ready to explore his favoured themes in greater detail, would have recognised the synergy of Brisac’s words and his directorial mindset.
But the collaboration of the two artists has brought out the overly-serious side in both; they seem so impressed with what they want to say, they forgot to make it palatable for anyone else’s ears but their own. Mastroianni tries hard to find Lena’s warmth, but Brisac and Honore observe and manipulate her, rather than embrace her. Which is a shame, because one thing that Mastroianni does capture is that Lena just wants to be loved.
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