Several high profile actors like Kristen Scott Thomas and Gerard Depardieu have two films at this year’s Cinemania Film Festival. So does a lesser known French actress named Ludivine Sagnier. And I have to qualify that last statement by saying that she is lesser known in North America.
Ludivine has been in a couple of successful French films like 8 Women and Mesrine: Parts 1+2 – Enemy No. 1. She also made her English language film debut in Swimming Pool. Her impressive body of work has earned her the reputation as one of the best young actresses in France and with performances like in this Cannes award winner and fan favourite her reputation is going to extend to this side of the pond as well.
In Lily Sometimes she co-stars with the stunning Diane Kruger (who speaks French impeccably), who is the better known actress, but it is Ludivine who is the star of the film. Her take on the very different character of Lily is bang on. The courageous actress does whatever it takes to convey the story and does not stoop to make her a caricature.
Two adult sisters come together after the premature death of their mother. The elder Clara (Diane Kruger – Inglorious Basterds, Troy) is a professional woman working at a law firm in Paris and the younger Lily (Ludivine Sagnier) can best be described as an eccentric free spirit who is taken care of by her mother in their house in the country. Once her mother is gone there is no one to take care of Lily. Clara and her husband Pierre (Denis Menochet – Hannibal Rising, Robin Hood – 2010) stay for a few days after the funeral then hire Mireille (Anne Benoit – Seraphine, Lady Chatterley – 2006) to look after Lily.
This arrangement does not last long as Lily does not like being told what to do and gets herself in trouble. Being totally against institutionalizing her sister, Clara takes a leave of absence from her job to move to the country and take care of Lily.
Lily is a woman who is governed by her impulses. Her behaviour is inappropriate, she wanders through the woods in various states undress, allows local boys to have their way with her, and says whatever she feels to whomever. Though Clara loves her sister, the fact that she is away from her husband and is tested time and time again by Lily strains the relationship between the two sisters. Can the nonconformist and the straight sister coexist without destroying each other?
Often when people talk about onscreen chemistry they mean between a man and a woman, but in this case it is between two women. Sagnier and Kruger are totally believable as sisters who, in their own unique way, are completely dedicated to each other. Ludivine’s turn is memorable while Kruger is just simply delightful in the less showy part. As courageous and dedicated as Sagnier is to doing whatever it takes (including nudity, no makeup and having to handle all kinds of dead animals) is as subtle and controlled as Kruger is. Two different approaches, but both are fully committed.
In a story that aims to teach us that what is normal is completely subjective, this is a different kind of feel good film. It is the appeal and believability of the love these two feel for each other that carries the picture. Because the situations that they find themselves in are not very believable, but somehow even this lends itself to the charm of the film.
This would be a much less engaging film if its only strong points were the performances by the two lead actors. Everything in director/screenwriter Fabienne Berthaud’s film works to help Diane and Ludivine shine. In severe contrast to the showiness (in a good way) of the acting the supporting features like the natural cinematography and the subtle yet note perfect score amplify the effect.