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September 07, 2012

Movies You Missed 55: Making Plans for Léna

Making-plans-for-lenaThis week in movies you missed: The French make movies about screwed-up families better than anyone.

What You Missed

Léna (Chiara Mastroianni, pictured) has at least 99 problems, and she herself is the biggest one. The moment we see this dark, glamorous woman in the middle of a busy Paris train station, towing one small child and yelling for another, we know she's in over her head.

Léna quit her job to stay home with her kids after she decided to divorce her cheating husband, Nigel (Jean-Marc Barr). (Yes, that is the connection to the XTC song, which is played in the film, though the movie's French title is completely different.) But her parents and sister worry that Léna isn't stable enough to be the custodial parent, so they arrange for Nigel to show up at the family's summer retreat in Brittany, hoping for a reconciliation. Things do not go as planned.

Meanwhile, Léna's parents (Fred Ulysse and '70s bombshell Marie-Christine Barrault) are wondering how to tell their kids bad news about his health. Léna's sister (Marina Foïs) is smoking like a chimney while pregnant and talking about dumping her husband. When Léna's brother (Julien Honoré) announces that he's engaged, the family's response is a collective Whatever.

No one seems to be enjoying the beautiful Breton countryside except the kids, and even Léna's eldest (Donatien Suner) is feeling the strain.

Why You Missed It

This 2009 film didn't have a U.S. theatrical release. It's now on DVD to coincide with the arrival in theaters of the latest from its director, Christophe Honoré: a multigenerational musical called Beloved (Les Bien-Aimés), which sounds worth checking out.

Should You Keep Missing It?

If you eagerly await the films of Noah Baumbach, and you loved the down-and-dirty dysfunction of the family in Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale, then no, you should not miss Making Plans for Léna. If you prefer your domestic dramas to have basically likable characters with quirks, like the ones in Little Miss Sunshine, this may not be for you.

These are difficult people. Often cruel people. At one point, Léna's hypercritical sister turns to her brother — the closest we get to an easy-going character — and asks him why he has to be so annoyingly positive all the time.

It's also a weirdly structured film. Midway through, Honoré throws viewers for a loop by taking us back to ancient Brittany for a dramatization of the folk tale that gives the film its original title, Non, ma fille, tu n'iras pas danser (No, my daughter, you won't go dancing).

Yet I found something mesmerizing about Léna and her rage and turmoil and general immaturity as she struggles to have everything her way. The film I was most reminded of was Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, which is also about a "difficult" mother and the toll she takes on her young son. But Nicole Kidman's Margot was an inaccessible ice queen, so that film never really drew us in.

Léna, by contrast, feels compellingly open to us — way too open, just like she is to her kids — and her emotional rawness gives Making Plans its core. It doesn't hurt that Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni, has old-school movie-star charisma. (She also stars in Beloved, with her mom.)

Verdict: Not for everyone, but I liked this. If you're a fan of Luc Besson's cult film The Big Blue, check out Jean-Marc Barr 20 years down the road, with a beard!

More New DVD Releases

  • The Five-Year Engagement
  • High School (Adrien Brody and Michael Chiklis in a stoner comedy about a school where teens get really ... you know where this is going.)
  • Piranha DD (the quickly buried sequel to Piranha 3D, with boobs 'n' blood and without Adam Scott)
  • Safe (Jason Statham kicks ass to protect a little girl. Aw.)
  • Latest seasons of "The Office," "Parks and Recreation," "Bored to Death," "Fringe" and "Grey's Anatomy"

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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