Contre toi (In Your Hands, France 2010)

Kristin Scott Thomas as Anna Cooper in her classy apartment

This is an odd little film finally getting a release in the UK, presumably based on the central performance by Kristin Scott Thomas – a major attraction for UK arthouse audiences. However, I’m not sure that word-of-mouth will make this a hit. The English title doesn’t help the film. ‘In Your Hands’, I realise is possibly a play on the phrase describing the responsibilities of a surgeon – ‘Your life in their hands’? Scott-Thomas plays Anna Cooper, a surgeon specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, who is abducted one evening and kept in a locked room by a rather wild but very pretty young man. My limited French doesn’t run to idioms, but I’m guessing that the French title might translate as something like ‘Against You’. This would be a better title since the main narrative question is “How much ‘against’ her captor will Anna be?” or perhaps how close, literally ‘against’ him, she might become? (I read afterwards that the director did want the English title but its French translation had already been used.)

Writer-director Lola Doillon sets up these questions from the beginning since she first shows a frightened and bewildered Anna escaping from the house where she has been held and a little later sat in a police interview room seemingly telling her story in flashback. So we lose the suspense of whether the captor will murder Anna and instead we wonder about what kind of relationship might develop between the two since we remember the so-called Stockholm syndrome. The narrative does have a twist which I won’t reveal but I suspect many audiences will guess correctly. (The captor’s name, I understand, is the same as the person who first described the Stockholm syndrome.)

The narrative didn’t really work for me. The characters aren’t particularly interesting but it’s possible that some (female?) audiences will identify with Anna. There is an emphasis on her loneliness as a divorcée without children and seemingly few close friends. In terms of the male gaze, this does feel like quite an intimate film with Scott Thomas almost never off the screen. There is something almost erotic about her careful dishevelment. Somehow she still looks elegant and poised even after she has supposedly not washed or changed her clothes for a couple of days. I think the problem is more with her captor played by Pio Marmaï – the narrative would have worked better for me if he had been older and/or less pretty.

I suspect that my main interest in the film was as an example of French cinema’s seeming ease of access to directing for women as writer-directors. I’m not sure that this qualifies as ‘auteur cinema’ but it is a second film by Ms Doillon, whose parents are in the industry – her father is a director and also a teacher at FEMIS. I also read that she is married to the high-profile director Cedric Klapisch (who is thanked in the credits). With those kind of connections perhaps it is not too difficult to put together a budget. There is nothing wrong with the direction of the actors but I don’t think the script offers enough. The film is only 81 minutes long but it felt longer. It did in some ways remind me of a far more interesting film, À la folie… pas du tout (France 2002) with Audrey Tautou, written and directed by Laetitia Colombani – a director of a similar age whose second feature didn’t make it to the UK.


  1. keith1942

    Roy about sums it up.

    Two points: Sight and Sound‘s review offered a pscho-analytical interpreation for the film. Not being a Freudian I found it unconvincing. However, it did clarify what I found unsatisfying about the film. I think it would have been more interesting if it had focused on the moral question of responsibility, which appears briefly but is not developed.

    The other thing was an implausible plot point regarding the French police. Maybe this is a French thing, but it seems to follow Kristin Scott-Thomas round: one of the few weaknesses in I’ve Loved You So Long was a plot point re the trial and sentence.


  2. Roy Stafford

    I think you need to be congratulated, Keith, on getting your letter published in the first edition (September) of the re-vamped Sight and Sound. (Anyone who is a BFI member can vote for Keith as a Member Governor – closing date 31 August 2012)

    Re the review in August’s Sight and Sound, Sophie Mayer makes an interesting case for a Freudian narrative and I guess that I was hoping for a female critical perspective on the whole mother/son narrative. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the script delivers the coherence that Mayer suggests. I agree with you that ‘responsibility’ needs to figure more. I simply didn’t learn enough about the characters for that kind of exploration to develop.

    One problem in blogging about films like this is the attempt to not spoil the narrative pleasure of new releases – which Mayer’s review certainly does, even if you don’t read the printed synopsis.


  3. des1967

    Yes, congratulations, Keith. Not sure I like the new Sight and Sound design but it’ll no doubt grow on me.

    “The film is only 81 minutes long but it felt longer” says Roy. Exactly how I felt. One of the problems with the film is that that it is basically a two-hander which is fine for the theatre but rarely works in film. However, the main problem with the film is the lack of real tension. Often in such ‘kidnap’ films, tension is ratcheted up each time the kidnapper comes into to the room to bring food or whatever, and climaxing in an escape attempt. In this film the captor’s repeated visits just result in tedium. Even when things do get heavy the temperature hardly rises. A great disappointment as I look forward to Kristin Scott-Thomas in French films, even quite modest ones. (Her English-language films rarely demand much more than a parody of upper-class vacuousness – confirmed by a recent viewing of Bel Ami, a US film based on a French novel).

    By the way, Roy didn’t mention the motive – the kidnapper feels aggrieved at his wife’s death during a caesarian section performed by Scott-Thomas’s character. I don’t think this is really a spoiler as it is revealed fairly early on in the film.

    Roy contrasts this film with another first-time film with a young French female director, À la folie… pas du tout. I’d add another, a UK film by a first-time director, The Disappearance of Alice Creed (J Blakeson, 2009), which also deals with the kidnapping of a woman, was for me a far more effective attempt at the genre

    As for the nepotism that allows well-connected French directors to get funding, Lola Doillon is also sister of director Lou Doillon, daughter of actor Jane Birkin and half-sister of actor-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Birkin and singer Serge Gainsbourg). Another example of this phenomenon is Mathieu Demy, son of Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda. His first film, Americano, is a sort of sequel to his mother’s 1981 film Documenteur in which her son appeared as a child (and extracts from which appear in Demy’s film). It stars, in addition to Selma Hayek and Demy himself, Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni, and Geraldine Chaplin, whose pedigree hardly needs elaboration. (Demy also appeared with Jane Birkin in a rather silly 1985 film by Varda, Kung-fu Master, in which, if my memory serves me, also had small roles for the Doillon girls). I suppose if this influence allows film makers to get a toe-hold in the industry and they go on to make decent films, it doesn’t matter how they got their start but I’d imagine their peers might feel a little hard-done by.

    Finally a word for Doillon’s husband Cedric Klapisch’s film, Paris, by far the best of the several films in the last few years.with Paris in the title.

    PS Admin, if this comment gets through (on Mac OS 10.5) it will indicate there is a problem with Mountain Lion and WordPress.


    • Roy Stafford

      Hi Des

      I think you have your answer – never upgrade your OS till they sort out the bugs!

      Two points: First I try to steer clear of spoilers just in case someone does want to see the film and come up with their own reading without too many prods in a particular direction. But as I say above it does make blogging tricky.

      I remember hearing the radio reviews of The Disappearance of Alice Creed – but J Blakeson is a young man!

      Thanks for all the family links – most impressive how you always find a Jacques Demy connection. French cinema is certainly incestuous.


  4. des1967

    Literally so as incest is a main theme in a couple of his films.

    But as for the mountain lion problems with this site, it seems to be a mountain lion+safari problems as it seems ok on opera. You can never have enough browsers these days!


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