‘Jumbo’ actress Noemie Merlant also stars in her feature directorial debut
Dir: Noemie Merlant. France. 2021. 95 mins
Impossible love is becoming a defining theme in the career of actress Noemie Merlant. After Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019) and Jumbo (2020), her feature directorial debut Mi Iubita-Mon Amour charts an unsettling attraction that subtly reflects on a Europe divided by culture, class and prejudice. A sure-footed handling of tangled emotional issues creates an involving if small-scale feature that Merlant’s name should help to sell.
Melodramatic plot elements burst through the surface of the story like weeds from concrete but are mostly discarded in favour of a more reflective mood
Merlant stars as Jeanne, a young French actress who is about to be married. Her bachelorette party is a four-day trip to Romania with three of her best girlfriends. They have barely entered the country when their car and belongings are stolen, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere at night. Nino (Gimi Covaci) and his cheeky younger brother come to their aid, inviting them to their family home until they are able to report the theft.
There is an immediate suspicion of Nino’s motives. Was he involved in stealing the car? Will they all wind up dead in their beds? Isn’t this how many a horror movie begins? Nino is such a sweet, handsome charmer of a fellow that they decide to trust him. Gimi Covaci, who acted in Merlant’s short Shakira (2019), is a screen natural, and the ease of his performance makes Nino an entirely convincing figure. Covaci co-wrote the screenplay with Merlant and several of his family members feature in supporting roles.
Nino’s stroppy mother is less welcoming to everyone. There is nowhere for the girls to sleep and precious little food to share. Hospitality is still extended. Awkward, getting-to-know-you sequences reveal the gap between the arrogance of entitlement and the kindness of strangers. The girls look for a non-existent local hotel, question if the tap water is safe to drink and discover there will only be dinner if Nino catches some fish.
Time spent marooned in this backwater becomes a chance to pause and reflect. It is also the opportunity for a slow-burning flirtation between Jeanne and Nino, who claims to be 21. The gentle guitar elements in Saycet’s score, performed by Benjamin Raffaeli, delicately underline the romance that starts to bloom.
Mi Iubita captures both a love story and a growing understanding between the girls and their hosts. The tourists come to appreciate the hard lives on Nino and his family, and commom stereotypes are constantly challenged. “Gypsies are poorly regarded here – worse than in France,” says one character. Melodramatic plot elements burst through the surface of the story like weeds from concrete but are mostly discarded in favour of a more reflective mood.
The final third of the film – Mon Amour – extends the holiday from daily life as Nino escapes family worries and impulsively joins the girls on their trip to the beach. There is a growing dilemma for Jeanne as she tries to figure out what Nino means to her. Jeanne’s fiance Victor (Wallerand Denormandie) is almost the invisible man in all of this and barely registers even when he finally arrives to take them all home. A stronger figure would have created a greater sense of what Jeanne is risking whereas he seems quite inconsequential.
Attractively photographed by Evgenia Alexandrova in sunny seaside resorts, the bright twinkle of a fairground and the seductive natural light of the countryside, Mi Iutiba starts to run out of energy and has an ending that disappoints. It still marks a feature debut of promise from Merlant and we will surely see more of the multi-talented Covaci.
Production company: Nord-Ouest Films
International sales: Films Boutique firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Pierre Guyard, Noemi Merlant
Screenplay: Noemie Merlant, Gimi Covaci
Cinematography: Evgenia Alexandrova
Editing: Sanabel Cherqaoui
Music: Saycet (Pierre Lefeuvre)
Main cast: Gimi Covaci, Noemie Merlant, Sanda Codreanu, Clara Lama-Schmit