Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Jacques Doillon

REVIEWED: 07-21-97

Victoire Thivisol, Matiaz Bureau, Delphine Schlitz, Marie Trintignant, Xavier Beauvois, Claire Nebout. (Not Rated, 92 min.)

Ponette accomplishes something that's quite rare and extraordinary in the field of storytelling: This exceptional French film authentically gets inside the mind of a four-year-old child and shows us the world from her point of view. And young Ponette (Thivisol) has more than her fair share of trauma to deal with. A sudden car accident has caused her mother's death and left Ponette's arm broken (the limb remains in a cast throughout the entire movie). As the film opens, Ponette is lying in a hospital bed as her compassionate but bereft father (Beauvois) tries to explain that mommy simply may be too broken to fix. Needing to deal with his own grief, Ponette's father temporarily leaves his daughter in the care of her aunt who lives in the country with her two children: a boy approximately Ponette's age and a girl who appears to be a couple of years older. Ponette refuses to believe that her mother will never return. It's not insolent willfulness on Ponette's part but, rather, a profound incomprehension of how such a thing could be true. Her aunt's consoling story about the resurrection of Christ only increases the child's confusion and fuels her belief that the loss is not irrevocable. She explores a variety of strategies for bringing back her mother, amalgams of semi-truths and solemn rituals imparted to her by other well-meaning children. Her young cousins are also abundantly sensitive to her pain and try to console her, but they, too, are held sway by the magical and irrational cause-and-effect thinking of childhood. As with all human beings, whatever their age, Ponette must explore the full geography of her emotions before she can find solid moorings. The film's narrative method of resolving the child's crisis leans heavily on a miraculous solution and is the only false note Ponette strikes. Four-year-old Victoire Thivisol, however, is a revelation to watch. The naturalism and expressiveness of this child as she moves through a host of difficult emotions is more like experiencing the unabashed realism of a fragile soul bared than the witnessing of a great performance. It's a performance so astonishing that Thivosol was recognized with the best actress award at the 1996 Venice Film Festival. Director Doillon is a filmmaker whose work has rarely shuttled over to this continent. The unique sensibility and gentle confidence he demonstrates in Ponette make it clear that this Frenchman is a storyteller in possession of distinctive insight. Childhood has no better friend than Jacques Doillon. And some kindergarten somewhere in France has a world-renowned actress in its midst. 3.5 stars

--Marjorie Baumgarten

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