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Sandrine Bonnaire won a Best Actress Cesar for her portrayal as Mona - a young and defiant drifter in this tragic story. Using a largely non-professional cast Varda recollects Mona's story through flashbacks of those who encountered her, producing a splintered portrait of an enigmatic woman.
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Varda researched her subject, vagrancy, in a documentary fashion. She uses non-actors in most of the small roles, a hippy philosopher who works a piece of land, a female vagrant who plays a small role(she also gave Varda information of her experiences),garage mechanics,an old lady who plays a rich woman(the opposite of her life in service), an elderly gentleman who has lived a tough life, and a Tunisian farmworker who acted himself. The central character is Mona played remarkably (by the young 17 year old Sandrine Bonnaire), intercut with staged interviews in which those she has encountered on her journey talk about her,as if for a documentary. Varda explores our attitudes to those on the margins of society through a philosopher-turned goat farmer who offers her land which she does not farm, and a kindly tree scientist who takes her in her car to jobs,but wont invite her into a conference,but gives her money,food and allows her to sleep in her car, then sees her off before she gets home.Mona is shown to be ultimately unknowable,how far does understanding open up preconceptions? Is there a limit to our understanding?
The clever use of 12 tracking shots from right to left,which appear throughout the film, showing Mona walking through different locations accompanied by 12 fragments from the 2nd movement of Bruzdowicz's La Vita string quartet,holds the film's structure together,conveys an unmoored,constantly shifting quality. Mona's landscapes are ploughed fields,blank streets in ugly small towns and dilapidated farmyards. These non-spaces become weirdly sentient. There are visual correspondences between the sequences-road markings,railings,stacked pallets,branches -and more obvious echoes,repeated images of farm machinery and phone boxes. Mona drifts to no purpose, without self respect ,sleeps rough in a tent she carries on her back,she finds some farmwork,or garage work or bums around with other vagrants,taking drugs or alcohol. Her life has no safeguards in place. Varda shows how easy it is to tip over into oblivion, to become a non-person. She experiences casual sex,rape, being rejected, cold, hunger,fear and loss. She only seeks affection from those who cannot reject her like young children,animals,even a statue.We are left to wonder could people have helped her more,what more we should do for those who come adrift from society, without kith, kin or homestead? Can one truly survive totally alone and isolated? Is the freedom of the rebel an illusion? Yahiaoui Assouna is also excellent as a Tunisian vineyard worker that Mona befriends.
A film of notable power, the more so when one realizes just how much of it involves non-actors, and just how young the principal protagonist was when making it. Unknowing, I had taken the performance to be that of a well-disguised woman of about 25 giving a mature take on homelessness and doing it well, finding that Bonnaire did this at just 17 makes it even more remarkable.
This picture starts with the discovery of the relatively recent corpse of the drifter who is the central character, and covers in pseudo-documentary style her last few weeks alive. There is little attempt at redemption or explanation, very little humour and ever-growing dirt, cold, and sense of disengagement. Actual on-screen violence and other misbehaviour is relatively sparse, but this remains a film for adult audiences, I suspect that some teens could handle it, but that many could not. Bleak barely covers it, and if the viewer is in any way cheered by the film I suspect it is mainly a case of "There, but for the grace". Makes me, at least, more thankful for my own relative prosperity.
The DVD extras are limited to a Director's commentary, and a short about the writing of the soundtrack which are both worth investigating, plus brief details of some of the director's other works. Sadly I have found no way of switching English subtitles on or off, which may be a distraction to some.
A film everyone should see, and one that some should probably see repeatedly.
Sandrine Bonnaire's portrayal of Mona is brilliant, how she plays this teen with angst - trying to rebel against a system which she sees as the problem, rather than the solution. Her other cast members are brilliant too, most of them being amateurs rather than professional actors. I was surprised to find Yolande Moreau (Amelie [DVD]  and Mammuth [DVD]) in this, but she's still her usual miserable self.
This is a great movie, I was nearly put off by the negativity on a certain rental site but I chose to ignore it and I am glad I did. Artificial Eye have done a nice job of this DVD and it looks rather good colour and sound wise. There are also a few short films by Agnès Varda as it seems to be from The Agnes Varda Collection Vol 2 which I would recommend.
Worth a look.
This film has had the same impact 16 yrs later it definately is one of the better french films of that genre. If you like Betty Blue and IP5 then you will definately like this.. The question remains with you why was she a loner? I definately don't think it was because she had a lovely home and family. Mona was a mystery did she really appear from the sea! She reads like a tragic shakespearean play on a course to self destruction. Why not, what did she have just her freedom and that came at a cost...