Cannes 2017: Léonor Serraille’s Montparnasse Bienvenue

“How on earth is she going to keep this up?” asks Little White LiesDavid Jenkins. “That’s the question, posed internally, that sprang to mind while watching the gently delightful debut feature Jeune femme [Montparnasse Bienvenue]. The ‘she’ is ambiguous though: does it refer to director Léonor Serraille, who boldly opens her film at the moment her lead character reaches the violent peak of a nervous breakdown? Or is it a reference to motor-mouthed lead actor Laetitia Dosch, who plays the eponymous jeune femme Paula like a red-headed tornado hurtling through the grotty streets of Paris?”

“Set in the Parisian Left-Bank neighborhood of the title and made with an almost entirely female crew, this loose-limbed, character-focused film is a celebration of a red-haired free spirit that, however, doesn’t skimp on life’s darker sides,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “As an added bonus, it should help consolidate the reputation of its leading lady, Age of Panic’s Laetitia Dosch, whose profile in the French indie scene has been growing but who hasn’t managed to cross over into the mainstream.”

“With a mane of Pre-Raphaelite hair bouncing behind her, and an impossibly furry white cat clasped to her chest, Dosch’s 31-year-old Paula ping-pongs across Paris in the wake of a breakup,” writes Sophie Monks Kaufman for Sight & Sound. “Dosch plays Paula as entirely undaunted by the change in her horizons. . . . Valérie Valéro’s production design uses Paula’s orange hair as inspiration for complementary backdrops. Moments of stillness are shot against azure blue, bubblegum pink or burnt sienna, creating striking images. Perky French electronica dominates the soundtrack, setting the tone for Paula’s irresistible momentum.”

At CineVue, John Bleasdale finds that “Serraille avoids every miserablist cul-de-sac and tries for something much more radical: optimism. In Paula, Dosch has created a vibrant if at times difficult character and has entwined that difficulty and vibrancy together, like a hungover Amélie. . . . This is fresh, exciting filmmaking and the arrival of a new voice in French cinema.”

“No normally constituted person would want to live with Paula, but it’s a memorable experience to share her life for 97 minutes of screen time,” writes Lisa Nesselson for Screen. More from Nikola Grozdanovic (Playlist, B+) and Fabien Lemercier (Cineuropa).

Update, 5/29: “Serraille studied literature before switching to cinema, and her sharp attention to the detail distinguishes Jeune femme from so many first-time indie features,” writes Variety’s Peter Debruge. “It feels a bit like Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, minus the laugh-out-loud one-liners.”

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