Dir/scr:Anne Villaceque. Fr. 2005. 94mins.
Emotionaldysfunction, repressed sexuality and Southern sunshine make a potentlydisturbing combination in Riviera, second feature by French directorAnne Villaceque. In her 2000 debut Petite Cherie, Villaceque establishedtroubled female sexuality as her key theme, and she returns to it with avengeance in this subtly intense portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship.
Strongperformances, elliptical narrative and a distinct visual intensity should makethis a strong festival choice, following its Locarno premiere in competition.That Villaceque plays subversively on a traditional French conception of sexualglamour going right back to Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot can only help thefilm's sales.
Thegorgeous, sun-kissed look created by cinematographer Pierre Milon belies thenarrative's dark tone. Antoinette (Miou-Miou) is a middle-aged single motherwho works as a chambermaid in an upmarket Cote d'Azur hotel.
Herteenage daughter Stella (Giocante) works nights - as we eventually discover, asa go-go dancer at the local Milk club. Stella's sexual self-confidence allowsher to have her pick of glamorous young Lotharios, though none stick around,but her dearest wish seems to be for a breast enlargement operation.
Meanwhile,the introverted, lonely Antoinette takes an interest, at once maternal andvicariously fascinated, in her daughter's sexuality, at one point usingStella's photo to arouse the interest of a pizza delivery man (Bruneau) - anencounter that ends in brusque humiliation for her.
Antoinettehopes to fix Stella up with a better class of man, and for reasons that remainobscure - seemingly, it's his shirt that piques her interest - she indirectlybrings Stella in contact with Romanovsky (Semoun), an estate agent visitingtown to arrange a deal with Japanese clients.
Thegauche, ineffectual Romanovsky rescues Stella after a moped accident, thentakes her to dinner at a seafood restaurant - a scene which Villacequeorchestrates for slyly excruciating humour, before the evening takes a dark andnot entirely unexpected turn. Just as dark is Antoinette's subsequent response.
Abrutal but detached coda shows Stella drawn yet further into a cynicaluniverse, bringing home the extent of her emotional damage.
Riviera's view of the world isharsh and chimes with a hard-line feminist perspective - all its malecharacters are ultimately unsympathetic - but the film's particular edge liesin its indirection. Villaceque evokes a nuanced relationship between mother anddaughter even though they remain apart for most of the film. And the refusal toprovide much of a back story means that we are teasingly left to form our ownconclusions about the roots of both women's emotional scarring.
Miou-Miouexcels in a downbeat, ostensibly inscrutable role that nevertheless hints atstormy undercurrents, while incidentally alluding to the actress's glamorous,somewhat brassy image in her 1970s films with Bertrand Blier.
AsStella, Vahina Giocante is unsettlingly mercurial, fragile and sexuallyintense, and Riviera will certainly boost her profile - althoughfollowing the disturbed sexpot she recently played in Ziad Doueri's LilaSays, Giocante will need to choose roles carefully in future so as not tooverstretch this particular register.
ElieSemoun also makes a strong impression as the estate agent, an initiallysympathetic but ultimately abject - a role he manages to invest with a dash ofqueasy comedy. A vibrant colour scheme enhances the overall sense of tawdrycoastal glamour, emphasising how much this is also a film about images andtheir saleability.