11 March 2015

PONETTE (1997, France)

"Ponette" aches with emotion. It's a true revelation. While I've seen only a handful of Doillon's earlier features, his interest seems to lie in the burn, confrontation, the aftermath. (The face, the shout, the slap.) Four-year-old Victoria Thivosol received the best actress award at last fall's Venice Film Festival for her performance as a child of utmost self-absorption. After the death of her mother in a car crash that occurs before the film begins, Ponette chooses to live in her own world, fashioning her own mythology from the information she is given. This overalls-wearing, wrist-in-a-cast, full-pout-mouthed believer is embodied by Thivosol with heartbreaking emotional authenticity. To a father's blunt "Mommy is dead," what more is there to say than "No! She's flying with her magic mirror." She is not obstinate. Simply, she believes, and patiently awaits her mother's return. Doillon is patient as well, fashioning from many close-ups and a child's natural impulses a transcendent portrait of sorrow and loss, of the bewilderment the world has to offer. There are subtleties beyond Doillon's loving regard for Thivosol, such as, in an early scene, leaving the hospital in a car with her father, we see the landscape rushing forward with the rear-view mirror revealing similar greenery spinning vertiginously away from us. In a field, a boy and a girl play clumsily at kisses and comforting. Ponette rages at her doll, then comforts it. She hears that her mother is with Jesus, then waits for the pair to visit. She waits. She waits. We watch, grateful, mesmerized, moved.