Polygon reports from the Remote Edition of the annual New York Film Festival, giving you a first look at upcoming films in theaters, streaming services, and awards season. This review comes from a screening at the New York Film Festival.
The basic principle of French release is playful: The recently widowed and cash-strapped Frances (Michelle Pfeiffer) moves to Paris with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and their cat Small Frank, who happens to be her reincarnated husband (Tracy Letts).
The oddity quotient only increases as the rest of the cast includes a psychic (Danielle Macdonald), a private investigator (Isaach de Bankolé) and a panting fan of Frances’ who identifies as “Madame Reynard” (Valerie Mahaffey). Pfeiffer is wonderful in a role that demands that she be as defiant and as mean as possible; Frances is as crisp and clear as it gets. The rest of the film, which tries to ground its weirdness in reality, doesn’t quite come up with a similar point.
Frances and Malcolm, whose relationship is mostly solid apart from how little they talk about the late Frank, could be their worst enemies. Frances, who in her most melodramatic moments threatens to kill herself when the money runs out, practically donates money, leaving a 100 euro bill on a cafe table after having a coffee. Malcolm, who just got engaged to his girlfriend Susan (Imogen Poots), can’t find the courage to talk to his mom about development and leaves Susan in New York when Frances suggests fleeing to Paris. When Susan tries to move on, he takes offense by telling her that they are still engaged.
The supernatural thread of the story is slowly teased as the family moves to France. Little Frank disappears, prompting Frances to hire a clairvoyant who once saw Small Frank for what he was. She then serves as a gateway to connect with Frank via a session, at which point Letts’ disembodied voice engages with the assembled characters on everything from family history to his discomfort with fleas. The twist is welcome in that it’s an unusually playful way of saying how hard it can be to move on from the death of a loved one (or the death of someone who was once a loved one). ), and director Azazel Jacobs (Lovers) treats the supernatural so naturally that it doesn’t seem like a joke or a “gotcha” gimmick.
The other elements of the film never quite come together. More and more people are entering Frances and Malcolm’s orbit, but the growing cast also means an increasing number of details. During a painfully awkward first encounter with Madame Reynard, who invites mother and son to come, spontaneously, in the hope that they could become friends, Malcolm discovers a dildo in the freezer. The scene seems unnecessary – it’s already clear Madame Reynard is a bit of an odd conversation so far, and if it’s a commentary on the weird things people do to cope with loss (Reynard has also lost her husband), this side of the argument is never addressed, and the object is never raised again.
Performances do a good chunk of the job helping smooth out rough edges in the film. Mahaffey is particularly memorable, as she imbues Reynard with a few weird tics and traits (to move from one part of a sofa to another, she crawls on the cushions) that make it clear that she is not a woman who has had a lot of experience in social situations. But Pfeiffer’s performance is the rock Jacobs builds everything on. The story Reynard tells about her – that after meeting a detractor, she was so indifferent that the jubilant suitor could only feel ashamed – seems bigger than life, but it’s believable given the face. by Pfeiffer. She always exudes a sense of strength, even though, as Frances, she’s not quite sure where she’s going, and watching her light a table on fire when a waiter refuses to take care of it is incredibly satisfying.
That there is ultimately not too much intrigue does not weigh French release down. It’s less of a mystery or a drama, though Small Frank’s disappearance certainly spurs action, and more of a character study of how these people react to big and small upheavals in their lives, and how Frances and Malcolm fit together. connect to each other, or don because Frank’s neglect of them left emotional scars. The performances and the story root are compelling, but having something as strange as a talking cat deserves further investigation.
French release will be released on February 12, 2021.