CLAIRE DARLING

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Julie Bertucelli

Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Alice Taglioni, Olivier Rabourdin, Simon Thomas.

Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni in La dernière folie de Claire Darling (2018)

Catherine Deneuve has enjoyed a five-decade long career and is one of the living treasures of French cinema. In her latest film the veteran actress plays the eponymous central character, an aging reclusive widow convinced that she is about to die after hearing voices in her head. She sets out to sell all her trinkets, family heirlooms, precious music boxes and antiques in an impromptu garage sale. She asks ridiculously cheap prices for the artefacts. Her erratic behaviour shocks those in the small village who knew her well. As Claire wanders through her house many of the artefacts trigger memories.

Through a series of flashbacks we see the younger Claire (played by Alice Taglioni, from the awful Steve Martin remake of The Pink Panther, etc) and learn a little of her history. We get to meet her husband Claude (Olivier Rabourdin), an abrasive mining magnate, and her son Martin (Simon Thomas), whose tragic death has left an indelible scar on her psyche. The fire sale of her valuable possessions is meant to be cathartic for Claire, until her long estranged daughter Marie (played by Deneuve’s real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni) turns up and puts a stop to it. Claire and Marie attempt to reconcile their long-standing differences.

Claire Darling is an adaptation of the 2012 novel Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale, written by Texan author Lynda Rutledge. The novel has been adapted to the screen by director Julie Bertucelli, Marion Doussot, Mariette Desert and Sophie Fillieres, who have effortlessly relocated the story to northern France. The film unfolds in a non-linear fashion. The novel deals with themes of troubled mother/daughter relationships, memory, grief, secrets and lies, delusions and fantasies, possessions and materialism, which resonated strongly with Bertucelli, whose previous film was 2010’s The Tree, which was set in Queensland and dealt with a young girl grieving for her beloved father.

This is very much a personal film for Bertucelli, who has shot the film in the magnificent rural mansion that belonged to her grandmother. The cinematography from Irina Lubtchansky (My Golden Days, etc) is gorgeous, and the production and set design from Emmanuel de Chauvigny is also great.

Claire Darling is a showpiece for Deneuve, and she delivers a good performance that captures her failing mind, her fragility and confusion. Mastroianni is also strong as her estranged daughter. The real-life relationship between Deneuve and Mastroianni adds to the sense of tension between the two characters here and lends authenticity to their complicated on-screen relationship.

However, Bertucelli’s direction is a little languid and slow, but the measured pacing gives us time to form an emotional connection to the characters. However, this subtle character study and drama will not appeal to a broad audience.

★★☆

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