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September 1, 2013 4:09 PM
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Venice Film Festival Review: Agnès b.'s Directorial Debut "Je m’appelle…Hmmm" Fails to Impress

"Je m'appelle...Hmmm."

Agnès b. owns a film theater in Hong Kong, produces films such as "Spring Breakers," dabbles in the world of film festival partnerships and maintains a line of clothing called "On aime le cinéma." But that's not enough for the fashion designer to prove with her debut feature "Je m’appelle…Hmmm" that she has a true cinematic eye to accompany her highly praised fashion one.

Recounting the age-old story of incest with no new insight or innovation, the movie follows 11 year-old Céline Meunier (Lou Lélia Démerliac) who, at a school field trip, seizes the opportunity to run away from home and from her abusive father (Jacques Bonnaffé). She then meets Peter, a 40 year-old English truck driver who has nothing to lose (Douglas Gordon), and accompanies him on his journey back to his homeland, where she forms an intense bond with him.

Facing unrealistic expectations for a first-time director, Agnès b. tries too her hard. Her style is insufferably experimental; she punctuates scenes with black and white drawings and shots -- conveniently inserted when a character says he sees everything in black -- as well as countless still frames of faces and places that bring nothing fresh to the already shaky narrative and cold atmosphere.

Moreover, Jean-Philippe Bouyer’s SLR camera lensing is often unfocused, insecure and lacks visual engagement apart from a few decent shots of beach landscapes. Jeff Nicorosi’s restless editing does the film no favors either. The only aesthetically pleasing ingredient is a familiar one: The designer's more than famous hand-written logotyped letters appearing in the credits and at certain points in the film. But the actors can't keep pace, failing to inhabit their characters and contributing to the film's overarching emptiness.

Part of the problem is that the movie's inverted "Harold and Maude" premise feels too trite. This is why "Je m’appelle… Hmmm"  instantly falls into one stereotype after the other. It strives to be a savvy critique of French society with allusions to the inaptitude of the French to learn languages, to their closed-mindedness and cold demeanor. The film also suffers from a certain moralizing tone that cannot help but spiral into a boring philosophical essay on relationship dynamics. She has lost control of everything: the story, the audience and her own ideas.

The movie's end credits include a definition of incest, which brings nothing more to the film and its meaning apart from a reminder of its simplemindedness. The director has unquestionably made a sincere effort to explore the uncommon bond between a pair of lost souls, but instead she loses track of the material. Sometimes, loving cinema isn't enough to justify contributing to it.

Criticwire grade: C-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Given Agnès b.'s profile, the film is likely to receive attention from the fashion world but a traditional distribution deal seems unlikely.



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