Set Me Free

Spare and quietly heartbreaking, this French-Canadian feature uses a fine brush to depict a teenage girl in the midst of a quiet crisis. The year is 1963, and 13-year-old Hanna Riel (Karine Vanasse) is in love. In love with actress Anna Karina, the chic star of Jean-Luc Godard's VIVRE SA VIE; in her Hanna sees a woman who has her life under control, doesn't...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Spare and quietly heartbreaking, this French-Canadian feature uses a fine brush to depict a teenage girl in the midst of a quiet crisis. The year is 1963, and 13-year-old Hanna Riel (Karine Vanasse) is in love. In love with actress Anna

Karina, the chic star of Jean-Luc Godard's VIVRE SA VIE; in her Hanna sees a woman who has her life under control, doesn't kowtow to men, takes responsibility for her actions and accepts the consequences. Hanna's life, by contrast, is chaos and confusion. At an age when fitting in is everything,

she's a perpetual outsider: Her parents are unmarried; her mother (Pascale Bussieres) is Catholic and her father (Miki Manojlovic) is Jewish; they're desperately poor because her father, an unpublished poet, can't hold a job and her mother must support the family on a seamstress's wages. Hanna is

baffled by love — she's only ever kissed her slightly older brother Paul (Alexandre Merineau) and her new friend Laura (Charlotte Christeler), who seems equally interested in both siblings — and feels abandoned by her mother, who is bullied by her husband and slowly retreating into a

cocoon of depression. Even Hanna's hair makes her unhappy since her father insisted it be cut boyishly short because "cutting strengthens the roots." Desperate for someone to emulate, Hanna transfers her adoration for Karina to her calmly intelligent schoolteacher (Nancy Huston), the first person

she meets with anything approaching the actress's glamour. Quebecois writer-director Lea Pool elicits beautifully complex performances from her cast, especially Vanasse, whom she often photographs floating underwater, suspended between two worlds. Rumor has it that Godard, with whom the VIVRE SA

VIE clips Pool uses freely had to be cleared, took an avuncular interest in the film; though the polar opposite of his dazzling, self-referential works, it's every bit as assured. (In French, with English subtitles)

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Spare and quietly heartbreaking, this French-Canadian feature uses a fine brush to depict a teenage girl in the midst of a quiet crisis. The year is 1963, and 13-year-old Hanna Riel (Karine Vanasse) is in love. In love with actress Anna Karina, the chic s… (more)

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