From the flowers that garland his opening sequence to the moody pop songs that fill the soundtrack, director Olivier Dahan's fourth feature looks and sounds great; it comes as no surprise that his filmography begins with music videos. Sadly, the film's beauty is only skin deep. With her teased hair bleached a cheaper shade of blond and the blue polish chipping off her ragged nails, Sylvia (the seemingly ageless Isabelle Huppert) prowls the back streets of Nice, turning tricks for cash. Having abandoned her husband, Piotr (Andre Macon), after the birth of their son and a stint in a mental hospital, Sylvia has become an expert on shirking responsibility: She also refuses to have anything to do with Laurence (Maude Forget), the adolescent daughter from a previous relationship she left in foster care. Laurence maintains her distance, but one night sneaks into Sylvia's apartment. Sylvia returns home unexpectedly with her pimp, and when Laurence sees him knocking her mother around, she grabs a knife and stabs him in the stomach. Leaving him for dead, Sylvia quickly packs a bag and, with Laurence in tow, hops a train headed north, where she hopes her old friend Sandra (Fabienne Babe) will be able to help. Sandra, who once worked the streets with Sylvia but married and now has a family, represents the road not taken, the domestic stability Sylvia left behind when she walked out on her husband and children. Sandra can't really help the fugitives, but she does give Sylvia a letter she received from Piotr. Sylvia claims that Piotr is ancient history, but mother and daughter head off in his direction, hitchhiking and bickering and learning to love each other along the way. But Sylvia, whose mind has become clouded by mental illness, can't remember exactly where she last saw her husband and son; she only has the fading image of a sawmill and a riverbank to go on. Luckily, help arrives in the form of a most unlikely knight: Joshua (Pascal Greggory), a mysterious stranger who's broken out of prison and is heading toward a destiny all his own. This is a rare road picture that leaves us knowing less about our traveling companions than we did when the journey started; Dahan and screenwriter Agnes Fustier-Dahan reduce their characters to pasteboard symbols, colored by unexplained quirks. Despite the miles logged, these characters remain devoid of any substance; they're empty shells that no amount of style can fill.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: From the flowers that garland his opening sequence to the moody pop songs that fill the soundtrack, director Olivier Dahan's fourth feature looks and sounds great; it comes as no surprise that his filmography begins with music videos. Sadly, the film's bea… (more)