Jan 12, 2012|
(France) Directed by Rémi Bezançon. Starring Louise Bourgoin, Pio Marmaï, Josiane Balasko, Thierry Frémont. Category III.
Having a baby is always a happy event when portrayed on screen. Despite all the vomiting and pain involved, expectant women in mainstream cinema are perpetually covered in the glow of maternal grace and bliss, caressing her belly while reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” The lives growing in them are a blessing from heaven. Hell, even when it’s a vampire-human hybrid that feeds on the very body it lives in, it’s still mommy and daddy’s sweet little angel (and yes, I saw the new “Twilight” movie last month…). That’s why when Barbara, the heroin of “A Happy Event” (“Un heureux événement”), is having her first child, she is frustrated to learn that the harsh reality is not as “happy” as people like to show us.
“Why didn’t my mother ever tell me? Why doesn’t anyone ever mention this?” she asks in writer-director Rémi Bezançon’s third feature film, a humorous and thought-provoking dramedy that offers a engrossingly fresh and realistic angle on the mundane subject of pregnancy and motherhood, boldly exposing the “untold” and “unmentioned.” Based on Eliette Abecassis’ best-selling autobiographical novel, the film traces a young Parisian couple’s experience through conception, pregnancy, labor and the infancy of their newborn. A few mistakes are made, both by the characters and the director, but with Bezançon’s ingenious skills, two charismatic leads and a feel-good overtone, “Event” is an enjoyable picture that is able to induce genuine laughter and tears from a wide adult audience.
TV-presenter-turned-actress Louise Bourgoin (“The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec”) plays Barbara, a grad student in philosophy who meets video-store clerk Nicolas at his workplace. After a montage of their amusing courtship—carried out wittily through an array of movie titles—the beautiful pair fall in love and, out of affection and madness, decide to make a baby without any consideration for the consequences. Barbara’s pregnancy initially draws the couple closer, but despite her supportive partner, the hardship is still overwhelming. Her shape, tastes and moods change radically according to the baby’s needs. A trained philosopher and writer, she even compares this frightful transformation to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” The contrast between her sexless life (Nicolas has become afraid to have sex with her since the pregnancy) and her raging hormone inspires a moment of sheer French humor, where she complaints to her girlfriend loudly in a restaurant, “I just want to get gang banged!” Such a normally inappropriate joke is handled amazingly well by Bezançon; so is the documentary-like delivery scene, which, though incredibly intense, still bears some comic relief.
The story is noticeably divided into two parts, and the baby’s arrival is the turning point. The real ordeal has begun, and we see how it puts a strain on the protagonists’ relationship. Nicolas gives up his filmmaking dream for an office job to sustain the family, while the exhausted Barbara starts to suffer from postpartum depression and has little time for her studies. All the fluffy, sugarcoated ideal conceptions of motherhood are torn down, instead is a by-the-number display of troubles—dirty diapers, strollers, breast-feeding, sleepless nights… They magnify any small friction and slowly turn the two free spirits into a bitter, resentful couple. The film takes a misstep here with the characterizations of them: Nicolas acts as a stereotypical man-child who’d rather play videogames than share parental duties, and Barbara chooses self-pity and isolation over actively reaching out for help. At the end, they both strike me as a little self-important and whiny, and since neither of them makes a real effort to make their relationship work, the audience may find them hard to sympathize with.
With limited acting experience, the gorgeous Bourgoin submits an astoundingly convincing and committed turn as Barbara, who narrates the film. Often donning a prosthetic stomach and fake breasts, she courageously pushes her limits and presents vulnerability and strength with grace. Her passionate chemistry with Marmaï also makes the pair eminently likable. There’s a rare quality of sensitivity in young talent Bezançon’s (nominated for three César wards for his last effort, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”) direction. Not only did he almost seamlessly pull off the film’s female perspective, he also switches style halfway through, employing a dreamy, fairytale-like cinematography to capture the early days, and a bleaker, ultra-realistic one for the second act. The final product is uneven, but is definitely worth watching.