COUNTDOWN
[a.k.a. ONCE UPON A TOMORROW]
(Il sera une fois ...)

The genesis for this film began with screenwriter Sébastian Régnier posed
an intriguing question to filmmaker Sandrine Veysset: "If you met an old lady
and she turned out to be you, what would you say to her?" Veysset did not
have an immediate response, but the idea intrigued her. As it turned out,
Régnier had already drafted a screenplay around the idea, so the pair set to
work refining it. The result is
IL SERA UNE FOIS / COUNTDOWN / ONCE
UPON A TOMORROW
, a lovely, if slight, meditation on life, the ageing
process and death.

The plot is fairly simply: somewhere along the French coast lives Pierrot
(Alphonse Emery, who bears a strong resemblance to Haley Joel Osment)
and his family. His father (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) tends to spend most of his
free time at his "club," a sort of gambling establishment-cum-whorehouse. His
mother (Dominique Reymond) is sickly and passes the time working on
jigsaw puzzles and listening to the same piece of classical music. When he is
not hanging out with his only friend, Elise (Lucie Régnier), Pierrot has been
counting backwards. He's also begun to have strange "visions" -- such as
seeing himself as an old man when he is looking in the mirror.

For her part, Elise lives an unhappy existence, overseen by her embittered,
wheelchair bound father (Marc Barbé) and her more carefree non-French
mother Liena (Beata Nilska). The young girl despises the chores she is
required to do, especially feeding her father's prized pig. She would much
prefer to spend time with Pierrot, on whom she has a crush and with whom
she hopes to spend the rest of her life. She also exerts a strange influence
over the boy and commands him to do her bidding, whether it be arson or
even attempted murder.

In the case of the latter, the boy decides he cannot complete the task and
heads toward the cliff where he reaches the end of his countdown. At the
moment he arrives at "one," he appears to be heading over the cliff when he is
scooped to safety by an elderly man (Michael Lonsdale) who improbably is
Pierrot as an old man. While he cannot reveal too much to his younger self, the
elder version makes it clear to the youngster that he will and should live.

IL SERA UNE FOIS ... has been directed with skill and grace by Veysset,
who elicits wonderful performances from the two child actors. Lonsdale is
terrific as the bear-like older version of Pierrot. The film is probably not for
everyone, but those willing to give themselves over to this charming fable will
be richly rewarded.


               Rating:                B


© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Alphonse Emery (left) as Pierrot and Lucie Régnier as Elise in
Countdown / Once Upon a Tomorrow / Il sera une fois
Directed by Sandrine Veysset, 2007; 78m