Katell Quillévéré’s Love Like Poison follow up continues in the grand tradition of the French coming-of-age drama.
Where Love Like Poison took inspiration for it’s title from a piece of Serge Gainsbourg music, Suzanne looks to the more wizened sound of Leonard Cohen. Charting several decades in the lives of a pair of sisters, Quillévéré’s movie fuses Pialat-esque social drama with the temporal wingspan of more overt and transitorily ambitious filmmaking. The resulting sophomore effort is a serviceable, moderately impressive feature, if not one which feels somehow lacking in areas.
In many ways Suzanne feels like a hybrid of Pialat’s Loulou and À nos amours, with the added tool of an increased emphasis on the power of time, and the effects thereof increasing the scope of the piece. We see the sisters age, and go through each of the events one expects to come with time. Suzanne falls pregnant, with her eventual fate straddled between steady work and a life of petty crime, while Maria, the younger of the two works away in the bigger city, placed in the comfortable, if unambitious employ of a factory. Life interweaves with death, in unexpected ways, while the one constant surrounding the pair is François Damiens’ father, a truck driver resigned to raising the pair on his own following the off-screen death of his wife, their mother. Damiens’ makes for the film’s great echo, his figure the one that ages the greatest, and the one whose path is the most affected by the events of which he is merely an observer.
Quillévéré’s portrayal of the “fall of (wo)man” differs slightly to the traditional coming of age tale in that the director emphasises certain acts over others. We see romance bloom, but in a non-traditional manner. The father of the eponymous Suzanne’s child is never seen or heard from, and coming of age here means more than sexual awakening, as per many other works of this ilk. It’s interesting that Quillévéré places a backdrop of the broken circus ahead of her movie. Opening with an adolescent dance revue, Suzanne carries with it an afterglow of the parade gone by, again echoing Pialat, and perhaps to a greater extent the work of John Cassavetes. It’s often said that Cassavetes and Pialat have had a greater influential effect over a particular strand of the contemporary French cinema than any other filmmakers, and that would certainly seem to be the case here (although a Godardian shift of tone signals an unexpected change of pace in the film’s last act, echoing such beats in À Bout de souffle, Bande à part, Vivre Sa Vie and countless other Godard movies).
The greatest complaint that one might throw Quillévéré’s way is that Suzanne is a little too derivative. The young-European-girl-coming-of-age drama has been a staple of the schedule for over 20 years now, and not a year goes by without what seems like a troupe of these kinds of features littering the programme of the middle-brow film schedule. While the film is fine, and perfectly enjoyable, a sense of ambition, be it in the mise-en-scène or the thematic make-up would do well to seperate it from the crowd.