Celine Deveaux's French-Portuguese debut can be too quirky for its own good, but a fantastically written lead character keeps it afloat
A lightly eccentric study of grief, mental health awareness, romantic confusion, mild self-hatred, and climate anxiety, Celine Deveaux’s French-Portuguese debut Everybody Loves Jeanne feels like a thoroughly modern fable, shot through with a distinctly American sense of quirk. Following the eponymous Jeanne (Blanche Gardin) as she mourns the recent suicide of her aged and emotionally abusive mother, it’s less heavy than its plot looks on paper, as concerned with non-committal love triangles as it is with calamity.
Beset on all sides by disaster, Jeanne, already in a state of emotional catatonia, has to leave France for Portugal after her eco-business (all about clearing plastic from the oceans) goes bust in a very public and humiliating manner. It saddles her with debts that mean she has to sell her late mum’s lovely Lisbon apartment, in which Jeanne and her brother spent a lot of their childhoods, and so off she goes to clear the home of memories and get it ready for sale.
This is all complicated by a chance encounter at the airport with Jean (Laurent Lafitte), an odd man who claims to have been Jeanne’s high-school classmate and is also traveling to Lisbon to visit his sister and niece. Despite a bizarre first impression, in which Jean tells Jeanne he always thought she’d die young, Jeanne finds herself falling for him, even as her Portuguese ex-boyfriend Vitor (Nuno Lopes) enters the scene.
It’s a slightly unwieldy plot, Devaux trying to say a little too much all at once about the fractured psyche and incompatible wants of a “Modern Woman,” but the burgeoning relationship at its heart is sweet. Jean is a depressive kleptomaniac with experience of mental health institutions, and the advice he’s able to offer Jeanne balances the silly with the genuinely insightful; despite his red flags, you really do believe that Jeanne would fall for him.
She makes for an intriguing lead – we find her slightly frustrating, but Jeanne is more annoying to herself than anyone around her, oscillating between clear-eyed views of her own failures and a similarly clear-eyed disdain for the self-pity she feels about those failures. It’s an often excellently-written role, one that Gardin sinks her teeth into with aplomb.
What is a bit less successful, then, is the way in which Devaux conveys these doubts and fears. Jeanne’s inner voices are very, very chatty, always talking directly to her whenever she feels an emotional overload, a technique that starts out interesting but swiftly becomes rather irritating. We see Jeanne’s perceptions of these voices as little characters in hand-animated (Devaux is also an illustrator) interludes, which I found a quirk too far, sometimes even undercutting the strong work Gardin is doing.
Elsewhere, though, the visuals are very pretty – Jeanne’s mum’s apartment is idyllic and colourful (we learn a lot about her just from the décor and bookshelves) and the Portuguese coast looks just divine, especially when watching from home during this year’s abysmal British summer. With a lot on its mind, Everybody Loves Jeanne could have easily felt like a rather worthy tale, but, with just a couple of missteps, Devaux has instead crafted a light, airy, and likeable diversion.
Everybody Loves Jeanne is released on MUBI on 27 July.Where to watch