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.