[Set Me Free]
Some directors use their life as the starting point for their first
features. Others wait until later in their careers to turn a backward
glance at their early lives. Swiss director Léa Pool falls in the latter
category with EMPORTE-MOI or SET ME FREE. While not a true
autobiography, the writer-director has incorporated many details of
her own life and upbringing in the film's central character of Hanna
(the gifted Karine Vanasse), the teenage daughter of unmarried
parents. Her father (well played by Miki Manojlovic) is Jewish and
a Holocaust survivor who puts a premium on the word and fancies
himself a poet. Her overburdened Catholic mother works as a
seamstress in a sweatshop then comes home to care for the family
and take dictation from her husband. She and her brother Paul
(Alexandre Mérineau) share a comfortable relationship that eventually
turns competitive when he develops a romantic interest in a school
friend of hers.
It is 1963, and 13-year-old Hanna is experiencing an idyllic
summer with her maternal grandparents. When menarche occurs,
though, the youngster becomes frightened and manages to return
home to Montreal. But the comfort she seeks is not necessarily to be
found in the tense household in which she exists. A burgeoning woman,
she is still untutored in the ways of the world. Her education comes
in part from movies notably Jean-Luc Godard's VIVRE SA VIE
(MY LIFE TO LIVE). That film's heroine Nana, played by Anna Karina,
is a woman who seeks control of her life but ends up as a prostitute
-- hardly a suitable role model for an impressionable young girl, but
that is perhaps Pool's point. EMPORTE-MOI/SET ME FREE charts
Hanna's attempt to gain control over her evolving life. Her identity is
problematic and made clear in a classroom sequence wherein each
child is called upon to give his/her name and religion. As Hanna's
parents aren't married and of different faiths, she uses her
mother's surname and professes no religious loyalty -- a situation
that immediately sets her apart from her classmates. She does
eventually bond with another girl (Charlotte Christeler) but their
relationship becomes strained when Paul takes a fancy to her.
Hanna also develops a crush on one of her teachers (Nancy Huston,
the film's screenwriter) who bears more than a passing resemblance
to Anna Karina.
As her life begins to spiral out of control -- her mother
attempts suicide, bills pile up, food becomes scarce -- Hanna comes
into conflict with her brother and her father. After one particularly ugly
encounter, she flees to the seedier part of Montreal and flirts with
prostitution. Hanna eventually begins to find herself when she is given
a movie camera and starts to make films.
Pool's direction is clear and beautifully captures the difficulties
of adolescence. In Vanasse, she has found the perfect conduit for her
tale; the young actress treads that fine line between awkwardness and
assuredness that most pubescent youngsters experience. While the
film doesn't really break any new ground, it is clearly heartfelt and
proves a worthy addition to the coming of age genre of movies.
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 95 mins.
|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.