284 Great Directors: Jacques Doillon

“We’re extremely affective beings. And it’s really complicated to try not to feel something.”

Why This Director?
: Films about children sound good…that, and Ponette has a reputation among certain sects.

My Last Experience Was…: Nope.

What Did I Watch: Ponette and Raja.

Where Does He Fit: Ponette is not an easy film to watch in any sense of the word, mostly because watching a cute little four year old struggle with her mother dying in a car crash is inherently depressing viewing that becomes even sadder if you have younger sisters, and Victoire Thivisol pretty much outperforms the entire Best Actress lineup of 1997 despite being precisely the age her character is. (Doillon gave her a puppy for doing such a good job, which for some reason is incredibly relieving.) Everyone in her life is sort of horrible in a well-meaning way at first (her father is terrible at grieving, her aunt forces religion on her, her cousins flat out are too young to understand and are cruel in the way that children are), then she goes to school and it all gets worse. I think it’s probably for the best that I accidentally had the ending spoiled, because even though it’s not the movie’s finest hour and really puts a huge dent in a lot of interpretations, I can’t deny that it comforted me a bit in what is otherwise something that might be a little too harrowing, the most internal process of all rendered deeply external. It’s the deadpan sadness that really spooks.

Raja’s premise of having a Frenchman hire a bunch of women to take care of his garden is a little bit of an odd setup (in a good way, you’d typically expect them to be maids), but the romance quickly gets very dark when the titular character falls into a romance with the man in charge. Pascal Greggory’s casual exploitation that he desperately tries to cover up with “she is assuming X in her position, so I have to do Y” is astounding to behold, especially since the expectations soar so high as a result of some simple flirting. The ending is much better than Ponette’s, too, although I wish it was capable of hitting the same heights…colonialism is a much more familiar topic than the religious nature of children, though, and Pascal Greggory’s performance is more conventionally great than Victoire Thivisol’s.

Most Valuable Asset
: Unfussy takes on grim, grim subjects.
Most Excited For: Family Life?

Coming Up Next: Raul Ruiz, master of a very specific style of dreams (not Lynchian based on the one film of his I’ve seen).

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