There is a lot to like about any film shot in ‘Scope and lasting only 81 minutes, the perfect length for a comedy. This particular comedy is indeed a good watch but with an unusual ‘feel’ and tone. ‘Felicità’ is actually an Italian pop song played on the car radio as this family trio, ‘Tommy’ and her parents, drive along. The song title simply means ‘happiness’ and that might be the quest for this narrative. When the film begins we first see Tommy (who is possibly 11) in an odd composition within the Scope frame. She is reflected in the mirror of a washroom, caught with just her head in shot in the bottom right corner of the mirror. The only other object in the frame is a hand dryer which she will eventually use and we follow her out, back into a beachfront café. When she sits down opposite Tim and Chloe, she grabs her set of large headphones and when she has them on the soundtrack goes dead. We might get the sense that she is alienated. When she takes them off after a minute or so, Tim hesitatingly begins to tell her a story that suggests she is actually adopted as her real parents left her in Tim and Chloe’s flat when she was a baby. But now Tim has seen her father again and he has become the rapper Orelsan, a wealthy man. Tim says that Tommy has a choice she can go to Orelsan or stay with Tim and Chloe. Tommy is unfazed and finally replies “hilarious”. Tim sighs and complains that she used to believe his stories. This opening sets up the narrative quite effectively.
I don’t want to spoil all the gags and comedy situations so I won’t outline the whole plot. I’ll just point out that the family are in Brittany. Only a day is left in the summer holidays and then Tommy is due to start school again. The chaotic life of her parents means that she has rarely arrived at school on the first day of term. Her parents are determined that this year she will so the narrative has a clear target. Will Tommy be there on time? The action is set on the Côtes d’Armor, the Channel coast of Northern Brittany. Tim and Chloe have a bolthole on a boat moored in a local harbour and a car, but that seems to be it. Both parents, but more Tim, have things in their past that they haven’t fully explained to Tommy. Since telling stories is part of the family’s modus operandi we, the audience, can’t be sure about their pasts either. In just under 24 hours the trio will have various adventures and Tommy will be tested as to whether she can survive with these odd parental models. At various points, Orelsan makes appearances, dressed in a spacesuit, and on one occasion giving Tommy advice. Tim shows her the Tod Browning film Freaks (US 1932) on a portable TV set with video recorder. It’s that kind of French film and all the better for it, I think.
Tommy is played by director Bruno Merle’s daughter Rita. She’s a remarkable young actor and a joy to watch. Pio Marmaï and Camilla Rutherford are an attractive couple and very good as Tommy’s parents. Orelsan plays himself. Brittany looks good in the images created by cinematographer Romain Carcanade and I like the selection of songs on the soundtrack. Only in French cinema would the film end with a Gene Vincent song from 1961 – terrific.
I’m not much of a fan of comedies these days. They have to be intelligent and heartfelt. This one is. Bruno Merle writes several films which appear to target children as the audience. He directs only sporadically and here seems to be working with a limited budget (his own house, his father’s boat?) but the results are good to watch. This is a film with a child at its centre but it seems to be designed for an adult audience. I hope children enjoy as well. There are a couple of dark moments but Rita/Tommy defuses them quietly for me. I enjoyed the film more than I thought I would. It’s currently streaming as part of My French Film Festival online.