The disappearance, and reappearance six years later, of a lost son is a catalyst in the disintegration and reunification of a family in this film based on a real incident in French rural life.
Nine-year-old Olivier (Emmanuel Morozof) is clearly the favorite of his mother Elizabeth (Brigitte Rouan), perhaps because of his premature birth. Although he gets along with his sister Nadine (Faye Gatteau), she and her father Serge (Francois Cluzet) are resentful of the way in which his mother
dotes on Olivier. Serge's other problems include apparent impotence, and what he considers a boring career as a village veterinarian. When Olivier disappears while running an errand to his grandmother's house, the family rapidly falls apart. Serge leaves for a job in Chad; the bright, imaginative,
and strong-willed Nadine opts to stay with her mother. Despite their efforts and those of a police detective, Druot (Jean-Francois Stevenin), there is no trace of the boy.
It is six years later, in a Parisian precinct house full of thugs and junkies, that Druot spots a young hustler whose odd tale about searching for his "mom" prompts several questions, the answers to which only Olivier would know. When it turns out that the 15-year-old (Gregoire Colin), with his
enigmatic, half-goofy and half-seductive smile, knows the answers, Druot contacts Elizabeth, who had always believed her beloved son would return. (Characteristically, she hurriedly applies her makeup even before peering at the re-discovered Olivier through a small window.) With Olivier back home,
Serge returns from Chad, bearing gifts--a motor-bike for Olivier, a pet monkey for Nadine (now played by Marina Golovine). Nadine is the only one who is suspicious of the newcomer's identity, and prepares a test that asks very difficult, specific questions about Olivier's past--the names of a
paternal aunt and an old primary school friend, the exact date of his appendectomy, etc. After some initial confusion, Olivier eventually answers all the questions correctly, even displaying an appendectomy scar; later, he and Nadine make love.
Serge seems pleased by the reappearance of a physically fit young son who can share his taste for misogynist small talk and a bottle of aged calvados. Olivier seems unperturbed when Nadine reveals to him her telekinetic powers, moving furniture and smashing a bulb by sheer force of mind. Any
lingering doubts of Nadine's--the newcomer could conceivably have garnered all his information from old family letters and photographs--seem dispelled when she hears him repeating a childish litany while urinating in the fields.
The real story emerges when Olivier discovers a local farmhand, Marcel (Frederic Quiring), assaulting a young boy. He knocks Marcel out and flees with the boy to Paris, where he confides to Druot that he has been impersonating the real Oliver, purely out of a desire to make everyone happy.
According to the apprehended Marcel, the real Olivier had fled his advances and fallen to his death in an old barn, and has been buried for six years. The interloper--whom Elizabeth still accepts as her son--returns to the family whose coherence his charm has effected.
OLIVIER, OLIVIER is a disturbing, heavily Freudian family drama that bears out Ibsen's maxim about the illusions that make life bearable. Polish writer-director Agnieszka Holland, who emigrated to France at the time Solidarity was outlawed, reports that she came across the story in 1984 and was
fascinated by its "interior conflict between darkness and light." Light certainly suffuses the opening scene of a lush wheat field in which the childish Nadine and her brother play at being visitors from outer space, but the overall tone of the film is of subtle, unresolved loss. Holland's film
has many of the elements of a fable, with its oddly recurring motifs and almost fairy-tale touches, like the image of the little Olivier en route to his grandmother's house with his basket of food. This is, nonetheless, a highly contemporary allegory that touches on both mild and serious sexual
dysfunction, from Elizabeth's unseemly doting, to the apparent incest between Olivier and his sister, to Marcel's child molestation. In short, OLIVIER OLIVIER has all the mesmerizing qualities a fairy tale should, with a dollop of hard psychological reality at its center. (Adult situations, sexualsituations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: The disappearance, and reappearance six years later, of a lost son is a catalyst in the disintegration and reunification of a family in this film based on a real incident in French rural life. Nine-year-old Olivier (Emmanuel Morozof) is clearly the favo… (more)