A French woman meets the half-sister she never knew in A NEW LIFE, a rewarding yet unnecessarily convoluted art film by Olivier Assayas.
Set in contemporary Paris, A NEW LIFE first centers around Tina (Sophie Aubry), an embittered young woman who operates a forklift in a supermarket stockroom. After work one day, Tina argues with both her hotheaded boyfriend, Fred (Philippe Torreton), and her dysfunctional mother, Nadine (Nelly
Borgeaud). Later, mysteriously, she is awakened by a man named Constantin (Bernard Giraudeau), and finds herself in a plush apartment where she has passed out from a pill overdose.
Tina soon realizes that the apartment is owned by her father, whom she has never known, and is shared by Lise (Judith Godreche), a half-sister she did not realize even existed. Constantin, her father's lawyer and Lise's boss-lover, has arranged for the sisters to meet. When they do, the women
tentatively get to know each other, and Lise invites Tina to stay with her. Tina finally meets her father, Ludovic (Bernard Verley), but reacts negatively to his selfish ways. Meanwhile, Lise finds Tina's presence more intrusive than welcome, as Tina tries to heal her psychic wounds.
Part of Tina's "new life" includes taking up with the demanding and brutish Constantin (without telling Lise), then breaking up with Fred. Later, Constantin's neglected wife tells Tina that she shouldn't be optimistic about her clandestine relationship with her husband. Finally, after more
traumatic events, Tina breaks up with Constantin, and reconciles with Lise.
The "Cahiers du Cinema" critic-turned-filmmaker, Olivier Assayas, has a small but devoted following that appreciates his ambiguous stories, complex characters, and fluid camerawork. There is no doubt that Assayas is an accomplished filmmaker, and that A NEW LIFE, his fourth feature, contains all
the characteristics of his best work, as well as an adroit use of Panavision widescreen (Denis Lenoir is the cinematographer). Through subtle techniques, Assayas inverts the family melodrama to the point that the viewer must work hard to understand the literal narrative level of action. The brief
fades-to-black, for example, make many scenes only comprehensible in reflection (in this way, Assayas takes after his mentor, director Andre Techine, for whom he wrote RENDEZVOUS and SCENE OF THE CRIME).
The downside to Assayas's method in A NEW LIFE is that the most dramatic scenes lack passion because they are difficult to completely grasp. Tina's growth from suicidal youth to searching adult, while never forced, loses some of its power, since major developments (including her affair with the
repellent Constantin) require extraordinary viewer empathy and projection. Tina's journey of discovery bears some similarity to Julie's in BLUE (1993), but that Kieslowski film, while also humorless and inscrutable, retained all the right pieces of its cinematic puzzle so that the viewer feels it
is worth putting together. A NEW LIFE, alas, lacks that special something that makes beautiful art great art. (Nudity, sexual situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A French woman meets the half-sister she never knew in A NEW LIFE, a rewarding yet unnecessarily convoluted art film by Olivier Assayas. Set in contemporary Paris, A NEW LIFE first centers around Tina (Sophie Aubry), an embittered young woman who operates… (more)