Nénette et Boni

Dir: Claire Denis, 1996. Starring: Alice Houri, Grégoire Colin, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Vincent Gallo. Foreign.
Nénette et Boni

Sublime and well-stylized, Nénette et Boni is like being trapped in the mind and lucid dreams of a French teenage boy in present day. Obviously one cannot think of male youth in France as one exact personality, so to help get a better understanding of Boni, let’s just say that he meets the equivalent of a "bro" here in the States. Boni (Grégoire Colin) is obsessed with the macho lifestyle that has been heavily influenced by current American hip-hop. He shares the general ode to womanizing, nice things, rough sex, and especially the overall "I do as I please" sort of moral. He lives in his deceased mother's house and is out of contact with his father, who moved away with his younger sister Nénette after their parents’ divorce. During the day he operates a pizza truck and spends every moment of his free time fantasizing about a married woman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who runs local bakery with her husband (Vincent Gallo).

Nénette (Alice Houri) is his estranged sister who has recently run away from her boarding school. As a minor with nowhere to go, she returns to her childhood home only to greet her disgruntled and immature brother with disdain. He agrees to let her hide out in the home only because she confesses that she is carrying a child, but he consistently bullies her and threatens to send her back to their father, comically nicknamed "Mr. Light Bright" for owning a decorative lighting store, which Boni vandalizes on occasion. But throughout their re-acquaintance, new tensions are added by their father who wants Nénette to return home when he discovers that Boni is hiding her in his ex-wife’s home. So here an odd allegiance takes place between them, fueled both by their mutual hatred for their father and the new marriage-like domestic roles that they've taken on.

The film goes on to explain the bitter and tough months ahead for Nénette as she plots several ways to rid herself of the child once it is born, while her family-oriented brother thinks she’s making a big mistake. Ultimately, it leads to Boni making some huge decisions and taking on one of the biggest responsibilities of his life.

The strengths of this film are set in its character development and camerawork. There is a fine line between clichéd stereotypes pushed over the edge and a sort of shadow that is cast from such depictions that can be used to introduce something new. Nénette et Boni does the latter. Boni is a typical "wannabe tough" sort of guy, but the degree of his fantasies makes him a colorful and passionate dreamer as well. And likewise of Nénette, she is not the average teenage girl depicted in films who gets pregnant and views the world with a spacey indifference to her future. Her desire to have nothing to do with the child or her family is calculated and executed wonderfully by the young actress who plays her.

The cinematography is used to advance these two characters and allows for a more complete and substantial story, without having to fill in certain gaps with useless dialogue. The same is true of Vincent Gallo’s performance, and that of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who plays the woman over whom Boni obsesses. Both hardly speak, but when they do, it is well-delivered and serves a purpose. When they aren’t speaking, the message still comes across loud and clear. I’ll admit, it was sort of a shock to see Gallo in yet another French film, but if you’re wondering if it at all resembles his performance in Trouble Every Day (also directed by Claire Denis), then think again. Not to say that it was a bad performance, because it wasn’t, but every actor and actress in this film really adopted humility and developed a great balance. This is a very different and surreal coming of age story that was more of a dreamlike adventure than a linear story, which I have to say is quite refreshing.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 24, 2010 6:33pm
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