Movie review / ‘Claire Darling’ (M)

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Catherine Deneuve in the title role of “Claire Darling”… Claire knows she’s going to die tomorrow, which is why she’s selling the family history at cheap-as-chips prices.

“Claire Darling” (M) *** and a half

“ON millennium New Year’s Eve, after a midnight revelation from God, Faith Bass Darling had a garage sale…”

This opening sentence of “Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale”, the award-winning (2013 Writers League of Texas Book Award for Fiction) debut novel of Texan journalist Lynda Rutledge, lists three of the six basics of effective storytelling – Who? What? When?

The missing ones are not hard to figure out – Why? How? and Where?  The setting for Ms Rutledge’s story is not where writer/director Julie Bertuccelli’s film unfolds but from little hints, I had no difficulty in deciding that it was England. Cups of tea appear through the narrative. Texas?  No way. France? Perhaps, but setting it anywhere else would have flown in the face of French national hubris in light of the felicitous casting of Catherine Deneuve as Claire.

Playing Claire, the chain-smoking widow of the owner of a quarry near Verderonne, Deneuve is a French icon, with a filmography of 135 titles, a long list of awards and, by the most recent available information, a net worth of $US185 million. In her 75th year, her face is as lovely and immediately recognisable as it ever has been.

There’s a lot of flashback in this movie. Deneuve’s daughter Chiara Mastroianni, now in her late 40s, plays both Claire when young and her daughter Marie who, after two decades’ absence, has returned to the family home to prevent the garage sale.

The film is packed with tiny things leading up to and on sale day for the filmgoer to observe – memories of emotions, daily lives, furniture, bric-a-brac, friends and seminal family events.

It doesn’t take long for us to realise that Claire’s mind is, well, a bit loopy.  Watching Deneuve do loopy is sheer pleasure, mingled with a growing and scary awareness that loopy is not taking her anywhere pleasant.  Nonetheless, Claire knows that she’s going to die tomorrow, which is why she’s selling the family history at cheap-as-chips prices.

We wonder how Claire can possibly know the day that she’s going to die and can’t imagine exactly how it will come about. In one teeny-tiny moment, one of the many such pervading the film, the plot delivers a teeny-tiny signal that you’ll miss if you blink.  

Evoking memories of the film that reputedly bankrupted MGM, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 flawed but absorbing first English-language film “Blow Up”, starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, the climax of “Claire Darling” is in its own way gigantic. Did Claire intend it so? Or was it an accident? You decide.

At Palace Electric

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"Claire Darling" (M) *** and a half
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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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