Directed: Agnieszka Holland
Genre: Coming of Age, Drama
Olivier, Olivier's plotline stems from the Duval family who live in rural France. They’re not entirely happy with one another; Elisabeth, the mother (Brigitte Roüan) dotes on her nine-year old son Olivier (Emmanuel Morozof), who his father Serge (François Cluzet) thinks is a mummy’s boy. Olivier’s sister Nadine is an outcast, unwanted by her mother and forced into her own world. The father is thinking of running away to Africa. So far, so good.
Events take a horrific turn when Olivier, sent on an errand, disappears without trace. Despite the best efforts of keen copper Druot (Jean-François Stévenin), there are no signs of him, and the family rips itself apart. Elisabeth falls in to a suicidal depression, Serge quickly jets off to Africa and Nadine continues to feel unwanted. There’s a horrible realism to the plot, written by Holland, illustrating in depth how harrowing something like this must be.
Six years later, a street waif (Grégoire Colin) is picked up in Paris by the same copper, who feels in his bones that he must be Olivier. The instant Elisabeth sees him, she is convinced, and takes him back to the family in triumph. Serge jets back from Chad, and the family is reunited. But is it? Nadine is not so sure that this is the real Olivier, and despite yourself it’s a mystery that will enthral you as much as it repels.
In all, it’s a magnificent study of the consequences of family tragedy. In a way, it’s like a prototype version of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, which deals mainly in the familial aftermath of a similar event. Child kidnap is not an easy subject to deal with, since the ripples it creates resonate for decades, even generations. Holland is sympathetic but realistic, and in a way it gets more intense when Olivier returns, raising more questions than it answers. Where’s he been? And more importantly – why?
Movie ReviewsAgnieszka Holland’s Olivier Olivier is a film about constructing normality and struggling to find something to call “happiness” in a world in which people clash, lie, routinely hurt each other and commit atrocious acts, not because they’re particularly bad people, but because no one really has a clue about what they’re doing. It’s a powerful film, full of broken, full-bodied characters, with some terrific performances, and a depth, attention to detail, and understatedness that makes it thoroughly convincing despite challenging and ambitious material.
One of the great perils in making a film that deals with “the way we are” is that its story and personalities are all-too-obviously vehicles for an essay. Recently, Todd Field’s Little Children (2006) failed this test: it made its point, but its emotional impact was as stunted as its characters. In contrast, Olivier Olivier’s tale of the disappearance of a nine-year old boy and his apparent return six years later seamlessly integrates themes and narrative, making for a more potent drama.
The film, which bears comparison to Tim Roth’s The War Zone (1999) and MICHAEL HANEKE's CACHÉ (2005), presents a family – Serge (Cluzet) and Elisabeth (Roüan), and their children, Nadine (Gatteau) and Olivier (Morozof )– that isn’t perfect. Serge is irritable, Elisabeth neurotic, and both too self-centred not to snipe at each other, gently but mercilessly. Meanwhile, the children’s hunt for aliens has an undercurrent of violence into which they dip their toes, smashing a beetle with a rock, and pretending to shoot a cyclist. There’s a functional equilibrium to the family, but it’s one achieved through discord, compromise and acceptance, rather than harmony. When Olivier disappears, the fragile peace is broken, and the family unhinged.
What’s most compelling about the film is the complexity of its characterisation. A psychological depth to the characters underpins a very real and believable world. The acting complements this, with Faye Gatteau, as the young Nadine, giving a startling performance. There are loose threads, and a couple of heavy-handed scenes where the pacing accelerates towards melodrama, but mostly the plotting and dialogue are restrained, creating an air of mystery that reflects the uncertainty of the world. When Olivier (now played by Colin) seemingly returns, we go back and forth with the characters wondering if it’s really him, or not. Elisabeth’s determination that “everything will be normal… a normal life, a normal home” is thus absurd, but poignant; when Truth is ephemeral, it might be rational to make it up, just to stay sane.
Finally, Zbigniew Preisner’s score deserves a mention. It’s sad and beautiful, and has a grandeur that contrasts with the smallness and limitations of the characters. It’s a grandeur that could have been disjointed from the film, but, by having Olivier play the thematic melody in single notes on a piano and Marcel (Quiring), the boy next door, whistle it on his bike, the tune is integrated into the story. Their inadequate representations thus reflect the closest humanity can come to grandeur, but show that there is something to achieve nonetheless. It’s the kind of detail that makes Olivier Olivier soar.