Sunday, 31 December 2006

Ma Vrai Vie a Rouen (2002)

Ma Vrai Vie a Rouen

Ma Vrai Vie a Rouen (also known as Ma Vie or My Life on Ice) is a touching, if rather low budget and parochial, teenage coming-of-age story.

It's also, in part, a gay 'coming out' story, albeit a very subtle one that only really reveals itself in the last few minutes. Unfortunately Paradise Peccadillo have done their usual 'marketing for gays' job on the DVD sleeve and given it the kind of soft-core porn cover that may attract the pink pound (although such purchasers are likely to be disappointed at the lack of bare flesh on display!) but will have the potential mainstream audience quickly looking elsewhere for something to watch.

Which is a shame, when a film is as exhuberant, 'feel good' and downright charming as this one.

Etienne (Jimmy Tavares) is a young teen living with his single mother following the accidental death (or possible suicide!) of his stepfather. Etienne is a bit of a loner, spending most of his time ice-skating or just hanging out with his best friend, the far more worldly-wise, and traditionally good-looking Ludovic.

On his sixteenth birthday, timed as the film is about to start, Etienne has been given a movie camera from his grandmother who's won the lottery, and film-shooting becomes his new obsession.

Very much like Blair Witch, Ma Vie is shot as if it were cinema verité, with the film we watch being the footage that Etienne himself has shot on his new camera. It's an interesting device, albeit one that at times seems rather TOO cute as we witness the camera accidentally falling over, incorrectly positioned viewpoints, the owner struggling with a new 'Is it on?' remote control etc. as the film progresses. However this style of filming does help give the story a truthfulness that isn't let down by the very natural performances of its main leads.

As Etienne's prowess with the camera improves, he starts filming, in an almost stalker-like fashion, his good looking Geography teacher, before affecting a match between the teacher and his mother who go on to become an item. But were Etienne's motives entirely altruistic?

Interspersed with film of everyday life with his mother and grandmother, are discussions with Etienne's best friend Ludovic, mainly about girls and Etienne's inability to get laid because he is too shy. Slowly we (and Etienne himself) realise that maybe he's just not interested in girls, and the agony of unrequited love subtly reveals itself in filmed conversations with his 'handsome, sexy' best friend who does what any straight boy who finds his best friend giving out warning signals does - avoids the subject or runs a mile if it's brought up directly.

Although this is essentially a 'coming to terms with being gay' story (and it's far more subtle than the above description and DVD packaging would imply) the overall theme is a universal one - of teenage love and coming to terms with the pain of an unrequited first love.

The awkwardness of Etienne's intrusive filming is captured to good effect, but his natural charm and likeability ensure that all protagonists tolerate his behaviour, even when they seem far more aware of the unhealthy aspects of what he is doing than he does. While the film's charm is pretty much down to the natural performance of Tavares, he is helped by a uniformly excellent cast, who keep everything in the moment, despite the rather artifical device used to tell the story. The subject matter may sound slightly depressing but make no mistake this is an upbeat 'feel good' film, with the inevitable happy ending, and one that captures perfectly the magic of late adolescence and becoming happy with who one is and one's place in the world.

Ma Vrai vie a Rouen screencap

Shot on a fairly cheap Sony home movie camera, the film was never going to be a showcase DVD release. Shot in French in normal 4:3 ratio the picture obviously has no grain or speckle, but looks very much like a home movie, as intended by its makers. The English subtitles are at times overly-intrusive and can't be switched off, which is going to be very irritating if you can actually understand French.

Extra's-wise there's a very badly filmed introduction at a Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 2003 in London, where the director, writer and young lead talk very briefly and in very general terms about the film. There is also a commentary track that I didn't get around to listening to (too many other DVDs to watch and I felt the film had really spoken for itself and needed no illumination). The original screen tests for a couple of the actors are also featured, but really only prove what one has suspected all along (that one of the cast is merely being himself in front of the camera, while his depicted best friend is an actor who's learning lines and delivering a performance).

Art house films like this, even with the usual online discount, tend to be more expensive than the usual Hollywood blockbuster, and suffer by way of comparison when it comes to extra's. That being said you could do a lot worse than rent this charming, endearing film that wears its life-affirming heart on its sleeve. Recommended!

Ma Vrai vie a Rouen screencap

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