Directors’ Fortnight opens with the posthumous last work from Sophie Fillieres, starring a bittersweet Agnes Jaoui

This Life of Mine

Source: (c) Christmas in July

‘This Life of Mine’

Dir/scr: Sophie Fillieres. France. 2024. 99mins

A 50-something woman faces an existential crisis in This Life Of Mine, a bittersweet wisp of a film that acquires some heft only if one knows the circumstances of its fabrication — that celebrated writer/director Sophie Fillieres was terminally ill during its production. She managed to complete photography and, following her death in July 2023 at age 58, the work was finished by her two children, actors Agathe and Adam Bonitzer. The finished film certainly has its qualities, but perhaps not enough of them to grab viewers who expect a protagonist to do more than flit around following an inner compass whose needle points in mostly random, if sometimes touching, directions. 

A pleasant if not momentous farewell

As a writer, director and actor, Fillieres’ credits go back over three decades; she most recently collaborated with Elise Girard on the screenplay for Venice 2023 title Sidonie In Japan, and appeared in Justin Triet’s Palme d’Or and Oscar-winning Anatomy Of A Fall. This legacy should mean that French viewers will be charmed and moved when the film releases there on September 18, after opening Cannes’ Directors Fortnight where there is unlikely to be a dry eye in the house. The enjoyment of movie-goers elsewhere will depend on their fondness for the humour of attrition.

Agnes Jaoui, in her third major role this year following Noe Debre’s A Nice Jewish Boy and Julien Carpentier’s This Is My Mother, is a perfect choice to play protagonist Barberie Bichette, a jovially flighty creative flake who is either taking leave of her senses or of life itself. She is an ad copywriter who dabbles in novels and poetry — or a poet and novelist who dabbles in corporate ad strategies. Hard to say. What is clear is that she has never liked being called Barbie. 

She resigns from her job at her hip-seeming agency, which gives her more time to talk to herself. She would apparently be thrilled to talk more often with her son and daughter, Junior (Edouard Suplice) and Rose (Angelina Woreth) but their interactions are mostly awkward. Barbie says and does quirky things that set her apart in nearly any situation, yet remains appealing thanks to Jaoui’s convincing portrayal of mostly upbeat resilience.

Troubled, Barbie enters the hospital — although what’s really ailing her could be mental or physical or existential, or all three. At one juncture a man starts chatting to her. He remembers her very well, going back to summers 40 years prior. She has no memory of him. 

Family and colleagues accommodate Barbie but with an exasperation which is sometimes evident, especially from her daughter. Jaoui shows zero vanity in the part, playing a woman who projects her own brand of optimism, even as her kids sulk. We suspect she is terrified by what’s happening to her but her demeanour remains Zen, her self-deprecating humour always at the ready. And she ends up in a scarcely populated corner of Scotland for a gentle punchline that is more or less worth the wait.

The film’s very opening sequence shows Barbie at her computer trying to choose a typeface. What is genuinely amusing at first continues to the point where one wants to shout “Make a decision, already!”. Yet just because this uncertainty is the prevailing tone of the film does not mean that slightly jittery handheld camerawork was the best choice throughout.

Built of both haphazard and deliberate encounters, ultimately This Life Of Mine is a pleasant if not momentous farewell, calling upon cinema as a treasured way to celebrate the ups and downs, the emotions and absurdity of real life.

Production company: Christmas in July

International sales: The Party Film Sales 

Producer: Julie Salvador

Cinematography: Emmanuelle Collinot

Production design: David Faivre, Camille Arthuis

Editing: Francois Quiquere

Music: Philippe Katerine

Main cast: Agnes Jaoui, Angelina Woreth, Edouard Suplice, Valeries Donzelli, Laurent Capelluto, Emmanuel Salinger, Philippe Katerine