(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hebrew title: Saviyonim.
Directed by Carine Tardieu.
Written by Tardieu, Raphaelle Moussafir and Olivier Beer
With Agnes Jaoui, Denis Podalydes, Isabella Rossellini
Running time: 89 minutes.
In French, with English and Hebrew subtitles.
T here have been many great coming-of-age movies about preteen boys (think of Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows , for example) but relatively few memorable movies about girls that age. This lack of convincing young girls on screen makes the delightful comedy-drama The Dandelions (French title: Du vent dans mes mollets ) even more welcome.
Based on a novel by Raphaelle Moussafir and co-written and directed by Carine Tardieu, The Dandelions is a crowd-pleasing film that is also moving and thought- provoking, with a Jewish subtext.
But what you will remember afterwards are the extraordinarily convincing characters. The heroines stand out both because of the wonderful performances by the actresses who play them and because of the realistic dialogue they are given. They actually look and sound like preteens, which is such an incredible rarity in today’s movies.
One other aspect of the film that sets it apart from so many others is that the parents are imperfect human beings, not abusive villains.
And, like their children, they change as the story develops.
The film opens in 1981. Rachel Gladstein (Juliette Gombert, in her feature film debut) is about to turn nine. She is an anxious girl, who is so nervous about getting to school on time that she sleeps with her backpack. Her home life isn’t easy, and her parents are so busy with their own problems that they can’t be very reassuring. Her father, Michel (Denis Podalydes), is a carpenter who is low key and preoccupied with his memories of Auschwitz, a place Rachel has heard of but doesn’t understand.
Her mother, Colette (Agnes Jaoui, one of France’s best-known actresses), is a bit of a drama queen and works as an ophthalmologist. She cooks only organic food, but when Rachel complains about not getting Nutella, her father reminds her that in Auschwitz they didn’t have even organic jam. Colette, a Jew from Tunisia, takes care of her cold, remote mother, who lives with the family but rarely feels part of their life.
Colette takes Rachel to an eccentric psychologist, Madame Trebla (Isabella Rossellini), but things don’t start looking up for Rachel until she befriends Valerie (Anna Lemarchand). Valerie is bold and rebellious, and being her friend frees Rachel from the weight of all her family’s dramas. Valerie’s mother, Catherine (Isabelle Carre), is a divorced, free-spirit whom Michel begins to find perhaps a bit too attractive.
Watching the girls become friends is a joy. They snoop on their teachers; do a dress-up play where they act out scenes from the then wildly popular TV series Dallas ; and bond together to one- up the snooty blonde queens of the class.
There is a theme on the subtle anti-Semitism still prevalent in France in the 1980s – the classroom teacher does not want to use Rachel’s name but insists on calling her Raphaelle. There is also a bit about the conflicts among French Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews, as well as the more familiar theme about the difficulties of growing up as the child of a Holocaust survivor. But these threads are not central and instead provide the background of Rachel’s life.
A summary doesn’t do the film justice because an awful lot of it is funny. In fact, this movie has one of the funniest scenes of earnest parents trying to have a serious and honest sex talk with their daughter I’ve ever seen.
The Dandelions is not without its flaws, however. The girls’ story is so fresh and beautifully told, that I would have liked to have seen less of the parents and more of them.
Towards the end, there is a deus ex machina that I could have done without.
There is some risqué humor that may bother some parents (one girl thinks she hears someone talking about sucking socks and asks why anyone would do that), but I think this is a wonderful movie for families of preteens to see together with their kids. It’s by far the most enjoyable film I’ve seen so far this year, and I hope it finds the audience it deserves.