Le Cou de la Girafe
Screen Time: 70%
Age: 8 years old
Le Cou de la Girafe
Directed: Safy Nebbou
Country: Belgium / France
Language: French, Spanish
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Mathilde (Louisa Pili), age 9, has been living alone with her mother Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire) since her parents broke up and her grandfather Paul (Claude Rich) underwent heart surgery. Mathilde's bad school grades are a sore point with her mother, and Mathilde spends much of her time lurking under her bed in a secret, mysterious world of her own. One night, she slips out of the house and makes her way to the nursing home where her grandfather is moldering. She has with her a letter from Madeleine, Paul's wife, who supposedly died thirty years ago. Mathilde has found out it's a lie: Madeleine isn't really dead. She's here to take Paul away, so he'll help her find her grandmother. Early the next day, a high-speed train streaks southwest towards Biarritz. Searching her daughter's hideout, Hélène is shattered to find a hoard of letters from her mother, which her father had always kept hidden from her. She heads southwest at the wheel of her car.... And so Paul, Mathilde and Hélène embark on a journey towards the truth. The barriers come down, the fog of lies and secrets lifts, and thanks to Mathilde's fortitude, they finally manage to talk to each other.
Movie ReviewsOne of the joys of a film festival is to see first features by new directors. Safy Nebbou has been making shorts since 1997, and with Le Cou de la girafe we see the makings of a great new talent. Nebbou had the great fortune here to work with two excellent actors, Sandrine Bonnaire and Claude Rich.
There are three principal roles: a grandfather, his daughter and his great-granddaughter. Paul (Claude Rich) is recovering from heart surgery, and has moved into a residence from his apartment in Paris. He has been a single father for 30 years since his wife Madelaine left with his best friend and moved far away. Hélène, his daughter (Sandrine Bonnaire), never knew her mother, and in some ways is out of touch with her father too. Mathilde (Louisa Pili) is Hélène’s daughter. She is rather precocious, but is
very fond of Paul.
As the story begins, Hélène and Mathilde are driving off to visit Paul, and Mathilde dictates every detail of the passing scene into a recording. This annoys her mother, but the recording has a purpose – it will allow Mathilde to secretly visit her grandfather.
Mathilde discovers a cache of letters from her grandmother, and sets off to persuade Paul to go off to Biarritz in search of his long-lost wife. It’s a long shot. Paul tracks down his old friend only to find that he is in a seniors’ home and Madelaine left 25 years ago. Hélène catches up with them and Paul is dispatched back to Paris. There he will visit his old flat and a bookstore (Le Cou de la girafe) that he had owned before he retired.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Hélène knows where her mother is now living in a small town in Spain. Hélène and Mathilde drive off to find their missing family member. They arrive in a quaint, quiet town where Mathilde asks directions in passable Spanish, but then tells her mother that she didn’t understand a word of the answer. She may be fibbing – the response was simple enough that I who do not speak Spanish understood it – but it’s a good joke.
They drop into a bakery where, it turns out, they have just missed Madelaine and she’s walking off down the street. The final meeting between mother, daughter and granddaughter contains a poignant twist I cannot reveal. The three walk away, around a corner and out of the picture, and there our story ends.
This is a tale about communication, or the lack of it, among friends and family, and the need to stay in touch while it is still possible. Warm, haunting and definitely worth seeing.
A note about Louisa Pili (eight years old at the time of shooting!): watching her act, one is struck by the combination of youthful innocence and experience beyond her years. Five hundred children auditioned for the role until Nebbou found one who could be a child, but who could hold her own in adult conversation. Without her to balance off the two adults, the film would not work. With her, it’s a delight.