[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
. 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.
 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.

                                 Rating:                B
                                 MPAA Rating:        NONE
                                 Running time:      95 mins.
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.