Toutes nos envies (All Our Desires)

by James McNally on March 26, 2012

in Cinéfranco,Film Festivals

Toutes nos envies (All Our Desires)
Toutes nos envies (All Our Desires) screens as the closing film of Cinéfranco 2012 on Sunday April 1st at 6:30pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Toutes nos envies (All Our Desires) (Director: Philippe Lioret): I’m con­fident in declaring that Philippe Lioret is France’s answer to Ken Loach. Reteaming with Vincent Lindon from his last film Welcome (review), Lioret crafts an intel­li­gent tear­jerker with a conscience.

The del­ic­ately beau­tiful Marie Gillain plays Claire, a young magis­trate in the city of Lyon. Day after day she’s con­fronted with cases of people burdened by unsus­tain­able levels of con­sumer debt, now being sued by the pred­atory loan com­panies who have taken advantage of their des­per­a­tion. Coming from a sim­ilar upbringing, it’s no sur­prise that she wants to help these people rather than see them humi­li­ated any fur­ther. Things reach a breaking point when the mother of her daughter’s school friend appears before her in court. After dis­missing the woman’s case, she is placed on sus­pen­sion due to her undis­closed rela­tion­ship with the woman (she’d lent her the princely sum of 12 Euros so that their daugh­ters could attend a school excur­sion together) and the case is thrown back into the court system. Desperate to help Celine, with whom she’s begun to form a friend­ship, she turns to Stéphane (Lindon), an older judge who has been known to fight the system for cases just like this one. He’s pess­im­istic and at first turns down the case, but he relents, just as Claire is dia­gnosed with an aggressive and ter­minal brain tumour. She decides to refuse treat­ment and keep her con­di­tion secret, even from her hus­band, while she tries to help Stéphane with the case.

As described, it sounds incred­ibly melo­dra­matic, but Lioret is able to keep things at a low simmer, mostly due to the strong per­form­ances of Gillain and Lindon. It’s won­derful to watch Stéphane’s rela­tion­ship with his younger col­league pro­ceed effort­lessly from the pro­fes­sional to the per­sonal. In the end, he becomes a father figure to her. And Gillain’s scenes where she watches her hus­band interact with Celine are heart­breaking. She tries to nudge them together so that her own impending absence won’t be so trau­matic on her hus­band and chil­dren, even giving Celine her own dresses and perfume.

If the film has any major flaws, it’s that the sup­porting char­ac­ters aren’t nearly as fleshed out as they need to be. Claire’s hus­band Christophe is far too passive, as is Celine, the woman who at the begin­ning of the film is too proud to accept 12 Euros from Claire but who later moves into her house and seems willing to accept any­thing the couple can provide. Claire’s mother, with her own credit prob­lems, seems to hover on the peri­phery of the story as well, even after she dis­covers that her daughter has ter­minal cancer.

There aren’t really any big sur­prises in the story, but it’s finely acted and injects poten­tially dry material with genuine humanism. The title Toutes nos envies slyly refers to those advert­ise­ments for cheap credit that promise us a life­style where we can have everything we want. Each one of our char­ac­ters comes to realize the lie behind that promise, and yet the film ends hopefully.

Apologies in advance for the lack of sub­titles on the trailer. I hope the syn­opsis will help you to figure out what’s going on.

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