The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
T.S. Spivet is a messy, warm comedy about grief, family and imagination. It's also ironically about being seen and rarely heard.
I have always wondered what it would be like to repeat a year at school, and I often thought about what the consequences of this particular action would be on my social life. This is the primary reason why I went to see the French film, "Camille Redouble" (in English, "Camille Rewinds"). As I hadn't seen the trailer before seeing the movie, and trusting only the title -- the world "redouble" in French has come to mean to repeat a year a school -- I was expecting to watch the story of a young girl repeating a year of her education.
As the film unreeled, I became astonished. The central character of Camille (played by Noemie Lvovsky, who is also the movie's director) isn't a teenage girl. She is a forty-year-old actress, an alcoholic reduced to appearing in second-class movies such as "The Revenge Of The Butcher." Camille's second-class director tells her that she is not the best actress in the world. The early scenes of "Camille Redouble" highlight a worn-out and vulnerable woman, one who is plagued by excessive drinking, a character experiencing emotional distress, who is clearly not happy at all.
When Camille returns after being out of the house, she has a fight with her ex-husband because she still hasn't moved out from their place. A potential buyer is coming to visit the residence. We begin to see Camille reveal an attitude of denial in her love life. Eight months ago, her husband Eric (played by Samir Guesmi) had left her for a younger woman. He had often asked Camille to move out so they can sell the place.
However, Camille clearly doesn't accept the notion that her entire life is falling apart, and she refuses to leave. Eric is her one, only, and absolute love. He is her universe, having been married since they were 16 because she became pregnant during high school.
Therefore, Camille can't envision her future without him and has stayed in the apartment, burying her head in the sand. Unfortunately, the buyer arrives. Camille finally explodes and reveals a strong and artistic temperament, exposing the actress that lives inside her, a caustic and dramatic person. The violent argument she has with Eric demonstrates the vitality and strength of her character, an act that seduces the viewer immediately. This behavior is all the more impressive as it contrasts with the weary attitude she showed in the first scene. Camille finally plans the break-up, at long last releasing the breathtaking energy that is embedded inside her. She clearly understands that her marriage is over and wonders how she could have stayed with such a despicable man. She is so upset with herself, and her pride is so deeply hurt, that she is compelled to better understand the letter her husband sent ending the relationship. She even questions the fact that he was able to write such a poetic text in the complex Alexandrian form, a classic style popularized by Jean Racine and Charles Baudelaire.
When the post-break-up Camille gets ready for celebrating New Year's Eve at her friend's home, the comedy-drama turns to pathos. As she tries to help her mother get ready for the party, Camille's powerless daughter watches her drinking excessively. Everything is done to immerse the moviegoer in Camille's pathetic existence. She is a divorced, low-class, alcoholic actress, who is preventing her 23-year-old daughter from living her own life.
Camille eventually joins her friends, Josepha, Alice, and Louise at the party and this is the first moment in the movie where she seems perfectly happy. They spend a wild night together, and Camille eventually faints from sheer exhaustion.
When she awakens, the forty-something Camille finds herself back in her past, in the hospital, 25 years earlier. Suddenly, she is 16 again.
At this point, I began to understand that the title "Camille Redouble" is a play on words. She doesn't repeat a year of school, but she does travels back in time. The word "redouble" in this context just means that she will have to come back. In my opinion, the English translation of the title, "Camille rewinds," is wrong because by using it, the play on words is lost.
Indeed, the meaning of "redouble" and "rewinds" is different; the first one, of course, means that you repeat a year at school, whereas the second one means that you travel back in time.
Because the movie is about time travel, there is obviously a use of French wordplay between the ideas of "redouble" and "rewind," given the fact that young Camille is not good at school and might have to repeat the year. Consequently, with the English translation, the wordplay is lost. Many moviegoers may only picture the idea of a girl who travels in time. If you analyze the movie deeply, the play on words makes perfect sense because the movie alludes to both ideas.
I loved "Camille Redouble," and it moved me from laughter to tears. It also caused me to question my whole life. Lvovsky, as both lead actress and director, gave me a life lesson on love, family, and friends.
A lesson about love.
Let's examine why "Camille Redouble" is a lesson about love. The sixteen-year old Camille meets Eric in high school, and she knows that in the future, twenty-five years later, he will leave her for a younger woman. At school, she is tortured between avoiding him and knowing that if she doesn't become involved with him, they won't have their daughter. The tone is very tense between the two characters, and the comedy arises from the fact that Eric does not understand why the Camille he has just met hates him so much. Ironically, it is the fact that Camille is utterly not interested in Eric that makes him even more in love with her.
This situation recalls the 1834 play, "On Ne Badine Pas Avec L'amour" (There Is No Trifling With Love") written by the famed French famed dramatist Alfred de Musset. On stage, a different Camille flees from Perdican, madly in love, brilliantly applying the French rule: "you run away, I follow you; you follow me, I run away."
In the film, Camille feels an urgency to live her life differently, to avoid the pain of a separation. She doesn't seek to save her marriage, but to heal her heart. After struggling for a long time to run away from him, Camille discovers that the young Eric, the man with whom she fell in love, is an artist capable of writing poetry. This contrasts sharply with the stupidity and immaturity that can be expected from a 16-year-old boy. Camille remembers what she liked about Eric, and why the poor guy she married would be able, twenty-five years later, to write her a letter using the alexandrine style. She will grow to understand that she cannot control who she loves, that it is not the fear that must guide us but the hope of knowing happiness. Camille's questions are summarized in the film when she asks Josepha: Does life ruin love, or does love always has an ending? In fact, Camille shines a light on the role of destiny in every love story. This happens only when she chooses not to pay attention to her fate, but to trust her own judgment, telling Eric that she will love him without compromise and without illusion. She will learn important things about the relationship, and will be brought back to her present.
A lesson about friendship.
"Camille Redouble" is also a lesson about friendship. The story depicts a close-knit group of four girls, Camille, Josepha, Louise, and Alice. They have well-defined personalities and complement each other perfectly. These girls are there for each other and to help each other get through adolescence. By meeting them again, Camille understands how she missed them, and how the passage of life has taken her away from them. Camille's friends are a living testimony to her past and a reminder of who she is, even though she seems to have forgotten their importance in her future.
A strong, bright, very funny comic character, Josepha is particularly important because having no parents she considers her group of girlfriends to be her family. Thanks to Josepha, the movie emphasizes the importance of belonging to a social group, which is essential for a teenager in the development of a personality. By belonging to a group of people around the same age, teenagers create their own identity in opposition to their parents. Because Josepha has no mother and father, she, more than the others, has to rely strictly on her friends which sometimes comes with risks. The film asks key questions about the double-edged role the group plays in the formation of the individual. Does the group enable each member to blossom? Or, what about the reverse? Does the social group prevent the creation of a truly individual identity?
"Camille Redouble" reveals to moviegoers a lesson about friendship because it reminds them childhood friends are an inherent part of themselves. Director Lvovsky, who co-wrote the screenplay with Maud Ameline, Pierre-Olivier Mattei, and Florence Seyvos, is warning us about the dangers of forgetting our past friends. To forget them is to take the chance of forgetting what we were, and to not understand why we have become who we are. Finally, Camille's friends remind her that before she was with Eric, she had a life of her own. This is why she will soon be willing to make her own decisions and to stop hiding from life and from Eric.
A lesson about family.
Another essential element about "Camille Redouble" is that it's a lesson about family. When Camille finds herself back in her past, she is very happy to find her parents, who will have died in her future. She is obsessed with them, especially her mother and refuses to let them go again. Camille's family history creates real depth in the movie and reminds us about loss and grieving. This comedy-drama owes its emotional side to a smart balance between the gentleness and decency her parents express to her and the exuberance of Camille's love for them. The parents are brilliantly portrayed by Yolande Moreau and Michel Vuillermoz, two great figures of cinema and theater in France. Moreau has previously won two Cesar Awards for best actress, and Vuillermoz is an actor from the Comédie-Française, the celebrated and important theater company in Paris, where Molière himself wrote his popular plays. The movie reminds us how family relationships and the sense of loss can dramatically change our lives for better or worse. Camille has to learn to let her parents go, to separate from them for good, and to understand how loss influenced the choices she made and also the choices she didn't make.
With "Camille Redouble," Lvovsky has created a very successful comedy. This comic side relies on multiple elements. One element is to have the cast look the same regardless of the year in which the scenes are set. The same performers play the characters whether they are living in the present or in the past, despite the travel in time.
For example, Lvovsky, who is 48-years old, plays Camille both as a teenager and as a middle-aged woman, and she does it well. An artistic decision has been made to not make the older Camille look younger when she is in school. This decision highlights the comedy in the on-going situations. Where the other characters see the 16-year old Camille, the audience is watching a 48-year-old actress sauntering about in typical teenage fashions, sometimes wearing leggings, multi-colored mini-skirt, and a skin-tight top. Laughs are found in a number of places, including the scenes in which Camille has sex with a teenager. What could be grotesque is not. It's handled with style. The audience has warmed up to the fact that the actors and actresses are playing multiple roles, characters at various stages of their lives.
The screenplay dances with absurdity, which enhances the film greatly. Back in her past, Camille, knowing the future, is torn between the desire to relive her youth, which represents the time when her parents were protecting and cherishing her, and the knowledge of what's going to come about. Her maturity and adult reflexes combine in an effort to prevent her from living a reckless youth. Paradoxically, Camille relives her high school experience by behaving deliberately like an immature teenager, wanting desperately to escape the problems of her present (adult) life and acting more like a young child than a teenager. Camille is more immature at age 40 than her 16-year-old friends! She turns to alcohol at home, triggering the incomprehension of her parents. The comic vein continues, as when her mother tells her to get ready for school, and Camille replies that she has already been there!
As director, Lvovsky's vision takes the comedy to enjoyable levels. She is unafraid of ridiculousness, a factor that charms us, and instead of becoming unrealistic; the movie turns intimate and real. There is also an edgy, sometimes caustic tone to the film that also plays into its comic side. Many lines, rising out of the comedy of the absurd, are hilarious. The characters are honest and uncompromising.
"Camille Redouble" brings to mind director Francis Ford Coppola's "Peggy Sue Got Married," from 1986. Both films share similar plots. Lvovsky doesn't copy Coppola's work, but rather she pays tribute to it. And she gives her movie its own dimension. Unlike Peggy Sue, Camille will get end her marriage. Her travel through time was not to help her to save her marriage but to help her accept the divorce.
When Camille has sex as a teenager, she is not giving-in to fantasy, unlike Peggy Sue who sleeps with Michael Fitzsimmons. In Peggy Sue's present, she always wishes she would have done it. Moreover, Camille's sexual experience is not successful and appears to be a disaster. (She acts like a mature adult, which disrupts her partner.) Peggy Sue's experience with Michael is a good memory for both of them, which explains why at the end of the movie Michael will dedicate one of his books to Peggy Sue.
Additionally, "Camille Redouble" is about aspects of the French culture and about how relationships are perceived and discussed in France. Stylistically, the motion picture attaches particular importance to the characters and their situations, whereas "Peggy Sue Got Married" takes a more-American approach to story development and focuses heavily on the problems of being back in time.
A great director.
Great directors highlight and give life to all of their characters, not just a few. Lvovsky succeeds because she demonstrates a particular kindness to them, even emphasizing their weaknesses, which makes Camille, Eric, Josepha and the others appear more multi-dimensional. A weakness in the soul of a character can make them seem more beautiful, if a great director, such as Lvovsky, knows how to showcase these faults. Her characters have nuance and keen emotional shadings.
"Camille Redouble" has a number of entertaining characters. There's the libidinous and misogynistic high school French teacher (played by Mathieu Amalric), a man that every female student will encounter one day and hate throughout her life. The director of the school play, a psychotic and crazy man (acted by Riad Sattouf) spends his time trying to make foolish teenagers appreciate the beauty of Carlo Goldoni's work. The physics professor (played by Denis Podalydes) is not as Cartesian as he is should be when it comes to helping Camille in her journey through time. Every character has their so-called fifteen minutes of fame and the moviegoer has the good impression that director Lvovsky has worked hard to spread the attention.
Looking at it from this perspective, Lvovsky -- director, writer, and star -- could have overwhelmed everyone in her movie. But she makes certain that Camille is the soul of the film without upstaging the other characters. Lvovsky is a filmmaker willing to share credit.
"Camille Redouble," is set in an era in the 1980s in France, a period of time when adherence to conformity seemed much less strong than it is today In the '80s, people's mindsets could more easily be changed with intelligence and reasoning. A very strong spirit of rebellion was floating in the air.
A personal movie about time and childhood.
"Camille Redouble" is a personal movie, alluding to the relationship between people, childhood, and the passage of time, themes the director cherishes because she has used them in her other movies. I appreciate that this comedy-drama offers us reasons to wonder about life. Should we try to change our past to better accept our future? Or, should we remember our past to understand what we have become? Should we believe in fate? Or, should be believe in the ability of everyone to change their life and to make their own decisions?
If "Camille Redouble" doesn't actually deal with repeating a year of school in the strictest sense, my expectations were satisfied because it made me realize that in one's entire lifetime, a path is never known in advance, and that living in fear of something that will happen is not the solution. What matters is not to avoid things that happen in our present, which will become our past. What matters is to know that we master our present.
"Camille Redouble" has the capability to heal broken hearts. Enhanced by the beautiful voice of French singer Barbara (two of her songs are performed during the film), this comedy-drama teaches us that life is a wonderful experience, brushed with joy and tainted with sorrow.
The movie explains that if we were able to change our past, our life would not look like itself. Our appearance would be the same - we would certainly look like we look - but things would be different and even worse! This concept is emphasized by the watchmaker character (played by the legendary Jean-Pierre Léaud). In a sense, he summarizes the spirit of the movie, reminding Camille, with the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
As the film plays out, Camille travels back to her older present having learned much about herself. Regardless of a divorce from Eric, she has discovered something more important to her. She now knows why she loved Eric. Camille has taken what life has given to her. She understands that life doesn't end at 40. She grew to maturity, a maturity wrought by sixteen-year-old girls.
"Camille Redouble" was selected and screened in the Director's Fortnight section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It won the Prix SACD. It was released in France on September 12, 2012 in France and on September 19 in Belgium. Under its English-language title, "Camille Rewinds" will be screened at the New York Film Festival.
Aurore Duiguo is a business graduate living in Marseille, France. She studied project management, business engineering and marketing. She has written and directed plays, is passionately interested in motion pictures, and hopes to find a career in filmmaking and theater.
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