Corsica’s fight for independence is told through the experiences of a young photographer in this dry drama

In His Own Image

Source: Cannes Film Festival

‘In His Own Image’

Dir: Thierry de Peretti. France. 2024. 115mins

A single life is constantly shaped by the impact of wider events in In His Own Image. Thierry de Peretti’s restrained, serious-minded adaptation of Jerome Ferrari’s 2022 novel uses its episodic narrative to reflect on a wide range of issues, particularly the price of political activism and the weight of personal responsibility. There is a universal resonance to one woman’s experiences of love, loss and regret, even if a substantial focus on the turmoil of Corsican politics may prove challenging for international audiences.

A substantial focus on the turmoil of Corsican politics may prove challenging for international audiences.

The film is structured around a chain of flashbacks as childhood friend and subsequent boyfriend Simon (Marc-Antonu Mozziconacci) reflects on the life of the late photojournalist Antonia (Clara-Maria Laredo). This requires a considerable amount of voice-over narration, in which we are often told things rather than shown them. Born in rural Corsica, Antonia grows up in a community defined by family, home and hope. Her godfather Joseph (played by the director) presents her with a camera for her 14th birthday. We are told that 1979 is the first year in which she took photos that were worth preserving.

Her early years of adulthood in the 1980s are spent with a close group of friends and depicted in boozy evenings, bursts of patriotic songs and a shared desire for the island to achieve independence. Antonia falls in love with radical activist Pascal (Louis Starace), but their life together becomes a case of history repeating as his actions inevitably lead to a cycle of arrest, imprisonment, release and a resumption of his opposition to French rule.

As Antonia is a witness to Pascal’s actions and the increasing radicalisation of her friends, she remains something of a passive figure at the centre of the story. She is always seeking the permission of men to do what she truly wants. Her father opposes her relationship with Pascal, while a newspaper editor wants to confine her to taking photographs of village dances and human interest stories. It is presumably a decision of dramatic irony on the part of de Peretti that he chooses to tell her story through the eyes and commentary of yet another man.

De Peretti paints the history of Corsica in subtle shades, making resourceful use of vintage footage, carefully staged reenactments, sequences of still photographs and a fading to black as a means of punctuation. Eventually, we begin to gain a better understanding of who Antonia is in her discussions over the dilemma of being a photojournalist, her ambitions for the future and her attachment to the group of friends that are a constant in her life. They too evolve in their commitment to the cause of Corsican independence.

In His Image sweeps through the 1980s, with Antonia becoming a photographer for ’Corse Matin’ French-language newspaper and the campaign of the National Liberation Front Of Corsica (FLNC) turning increasingly violent. Kidnapping, torture, execution and vicious retaliation become more commonplace. The focus sharpens in the second half, as Antonia decides to fly to Belgrade and cover the growing horrors of the Bosnian War. Her homeland also becomes an increasingly violent place of what she sees as senseless killings and a macho mentality. “Now this country worships murderers,” she declares.

Ideas and ethics tend to eclipse emotions in In His Image, creating a reserved, sometimes dry tone. It feels as if de Peretti wants to honour all the characters and events in the book without making it more accessible by narrowing the focus to a single relationship that matters most to Antonia. An understated central performance from newcomer Laredo adds to this sense of a film avoiding easy melodrama in search of more complex truths about Antonia’s life and work.

Production company: Les Films Velvet

International sales: Pyramide International

Producer: Frederic Jouve

Screenplay: Thierry de Peretti, Jeanne Aptekman 

Cinematography: Josie Deshaies

Production design: Toma Baqueni

Editing: Marion Monnier, Lila Desiles

Main cast: Clara-Maria Laredo, Marc-Antonu Mozziconacci, Louis Starace, Barbara Sbraggia, Saveria Giorgi