Christophe Honoré has written for the cinema before, notably for Girls Can’t Swim (Les Filles Ne Savent Pas Nager) (1999), but he is also well known in France for his rather unconventional children’s books and other serious adult fiction. 17 Fois Cécile Cassard is his first feature as a film director and in it he explores many of the themes that are prevalent throughout his books.
Deeply affected by the death of her husband in a car accident, Cécile Cassard (Béatrice Dalle) finds herself unable to function, unable to cope with life and incapable of even looking after her child, Lucas. She leaves the boy with a friend (Jeanne Balibar) and goes to the river with the intention of drowning herself, but instead of finding oblivion she reawakens in a strange place – a Toulouse that seems to be inhabited exclusively by men. Little by little, she forms friendships and one particular relationship with a gay man, Matthieu (Romain Duris). Through her relationship with Matthieu she becomes a new person and learns to find happiness again in her life.
17 Fois Cécile Cassard is an unusual film that never feels the need to adhere to anything resembling a plot. The film is about a woman who, after the loss of her husband, needs to leave her old life entirely and irrevocably behind her - her friends, her needs, her desires - and be re-born as an entirely new person. This story of rebirth is told through seventeen scenes, each separated by a black screen. While never quite surreal, there is a slight edge of unreality to many of the scenes. One scene where she crosses a bridge to visit a cemetery, but is prevented from entering by a ferocious black dog, is simply drenched in symbolism. Apart from the phantom of her dead husband, only women are present in the early part of the film, while the second half of the film after her “death”, features only male characters and often homo-erotic situations. Quite what all this means is anyone’s guess. Much of it presumably reflects the psychological and emotional state of Cécile, her desire to escape from being a wife and a mother, escaping from an emotion-based existence into a more physical reality. Possibly. In any case, the film’s look and feel is persuasive, containing many beautifully filmed scenes and a fine performance from Béatrice Dalle (Betty Blue, Trouble Every Day) who seems to strike the perfect emotional pitch for each scene of morbid introspection, with a perfectly counterbalanced performance from the more outgoing and expressive Romain Duris (L'Auberge Espagnole).
The picture quality on this French Region2 release is nothing less than perfect. I would give this a higher score than 10 if it were possible. No artefacts, just a flawless image with rich colours, deep blacks and a perfectly balanced contrast. Even dark scenes, of which there are quite a number, show good detail and minimal grain. The Toulouse sequences contrast the cold, dark, early part of the film with the warm glow of southern France.
The audio is strong and clear, Dolby Digital 5.1, principally centre and front speakers, making rare use of the rear speakers. The film features a strong musical score, which comes across quite effectively.
English subtitles are provided for the feature film. They are well translated and are clear and removable. The extra features do not feature any subtitles at all.
The director’s commentary is in French with no subtitles. The commentary can be quite interesting as, since there is no plot to speak of, the director finds other things to talk about. He talks about the themes that interest him and how they have been translated into the film medium. He is very pleased with how Béatrice Dalle managed to breathe life into emblematic scenes that had only been words on a page before. The director can be quite objective about what works and doesn’t work well for him in the medium. He points out the symbolism and the basic premise of the film, but doesn’t overly explain what they mean.
Making of (19.25)
Cécile Cassard, Une Fois De Plus (Cécile Cassard, One More Time) is not the best kind of Making of documentary. Presented in 1.85:1 letterbox, it literally shows you the making of – the crew setting up and filming a number of scenes from the film. In a film where the creation of mood and atmosphere in an unreal and other-worldly setting are so important, you don’t really want to see the man behind the curtain. It’s not terribly interesting and it’s pretty shapeless as a documentary. There are no English subtitles, but it does feature some French captions and subtitles, when the dialogue is difficult to make out.
Video Clip (2. 55)
A non-anamorphic 1.85:1 promo video of the song Pretty Killer is sung by Lily Margot. The video looks like a long outtake of Dalle driving at night. The song is sung in English (although with a French accent it sounds like “Pray Tequila”).
Shows 8 images from the film and behind the scenes.
Christophe Honoré is soon to start filming an adaptation of George Bataille’s extraordinary novel Ma Mère, the story of a young boy who is led into a life of perversion by his mother. The film, which will star Isabelle Huppert, seems to be perfect material for Honoré, given the subject matter of his writings and his work on his first feature here. The raw material of 17 Fois Cécile Cassard might be a bit too personal and obscure to translate effectively into the film medium, but it is an intriguing effort nonetheless and gives clear indication that the director is undoubtedly a talent to watch out for in the future.