La Petite Lili

  • 2003
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Comedy, Drama, Romance

If there's something naggingly familiar about Claude Miller's ensemble piece about a group of movie types hanging about a seaside country home, it's that the film is, in fact, an adaptation of Anton Chekov's The Seagull. This provenance also explains why there's something slightly old-fashioned about the whole business. The central figure in Miller's retelling...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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If there's something naggingly familiar about Claude Miller's ensemble piece about a group of movie types hanging about a seaside country home, it's that the film is, in fact, an adaptation of Anton Chekov's The Seagull. This provenance also explains why there's something slightly old-fashioned about the whole business. The central figure in Miller's retelling of the tale is pretty ingenue Lili (Ludivine Sagnier), who's lived her entire life near the summer home of elderly, cantankerous Simon Marceaux (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and his narcissistic younger sister, aging film actress Mado (Miller favorite Nicole Garcia), the mother of Lili's lover, Julien (Robinson Stevenin). Stormy Julien is an aspiring experimental filmmaker who behaves more like Hamlet; he clearly resents his mother's most recent lover, Brice (Bernard Giraudeau), a successful commercial director whose latest film with Mado is typical of the bourgeois dreck Julien believes has destroyed French cinema. The Marceaux family estate is tended by their trusted caretaker, Guy (Marc Betton), and his wife, Leone (Anne Le Ny), who's been carrying on a clandestine affair with the local doctor, Serge (Yves Jacques). Guy and Leone's gloomy daughter, Jean-Marie (Julie Depardieu), is desperately in love with Julien, but sublimates her unrequited passion by smoking and raiding the liquor cabinet, surreptitiously sipping directly from the bottle. The deceptive summer calm is disrupted when Julien sets up an impromptu screening of his film, a moody, shot-on-video short starring Lili. In a fit of pique doubtless stirred by Lili's enviable youth and Julien's artistic idealism, Mado fidgets from the start, then declares her son's work a pretentious, pseudo-Bergmanesque bore. Brice, however, is transfixed — not by Julien's passion, which he actually does admire — but by Lili's beauty. And the stage is set for some midsummer night's histrionics. Miller has smoothly transformed Chekov's masterpiece into a critique of his own art — cinema — while respectfully retaining the playwright's core themes. Rather than allow his story to end in tragedy with that proverbial Chekovian gunshot, however, Miller rewrites the entire fourth act, bringing the action to Paris where, four years hence, Julien is preparing to direct his first feature. The incidents of that fateful summer have become fodder for Julien's screenplay, and the movie even stars most of the "real life" players. This clever self-referentiality somewhat undermines the drama by calling close attention to its conventions, but it's also what ultimately saves the film from becoming little more than an academic exercise in adaptation.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: If there's something naggingly familiar about Claude Miller's ensemble piece about a group of movie types hanging about a seaside country home, it's that the film is, in fact, an adaptation of Anton Chekov's The Seagull. This provenance also explains why t… (more)

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