It appears Jean-Claude Brisseau is finally mellowing – his latest film “La fille de nulle part” [Eng. Title: The Girl from Nowhere] is surprisingly subdued, both in scope and budget, as he goes back to basics by even casting himself as the main character Michel, a retired maths teacher with interests in film and philosophy, presently writing a book on how illusions are a necessity for humans to help them get through life.
Michel has made loneliness his companion since his wife’s passing twenty nine years ago, dedicating most of his time to (or distracting himself through) research, reading, and philosophy. Until an unexpected visitor ends up at his doorstep, in the form of young Dora (Virginie Legeay), assaulted on the stairwell by a former boyfriend. Michel carries her in to attend to her wounds, and doesn’t call the police or a doctor after her repeated pleas. He allows the homeless Dora to stay in his spacious Parisian apartment until she’s recovered, but unsurprisingly grows fond of her, even if in a platonic way. Dora too takes an interest in Michel’s writing, which stimulates him, and becomes his muse in the process.
But Dora wants to be free, and leaves as soon as she gets better, but not before overseeing some strange happenings within the apartment. When one such happening renders Michel unconscious, Dora reappears, as if on cue, to revive and comfort him – she accepts Michel’s earlier invitation to live in his apartment. We learn through the course of the film that she’s not just your everyday guardian angel, but has special abilities too, like communicating with spirits, and foreseeing the future (i.e. death) of those she cares. Michel also begins to believe that Dora is the reincarnation of his late wife, and goes to extraordinary lengths to include her as beneficiary in his will.
The sprightly and mostly asexual Dora is not the kind of protagonist you’d expect to see in a Brisseau film – she’s not exactly into exploring the frontiers of sex as characters from his earlier films. She is however incredibly cute, offering Michel stimulation of an intellectual kind, which makes her a male fantasy figure all the same. Virginie Legeay, who plays Dora, is one of the beauties Brisseau had tucked away neatly for behind-the-scene duties as his assistant director for far too long, a cap she wears here as well. But it’s great to see her revealed, in more ways than one of course, through this film.
The screenplay is simple with no more than two characters appearing at any given time, and yet hard to categorise as a thriller, horror, or fantasy. There are some moments in the film that are unexpectedly creepy with ghosts and poltergeists, achieved with minimal but convincing effects. With regard to its cinematography, the only give-away, at least for me, of this being a digital film was the widescreen aspect ratio used – Brisseau generally prefers the full-frame. But there are nevertheless several quintessentially ‘Brisseau’ elements perused in the film, with his frozen tableau-like compositions, and his obsession with apparitions – the final scene in particular is reminiscent of his much earlier work, Un Jeu Brutal. I’d rather not comment on his philosophical discourses in the film, but only state that the underlying theme here is mortality, of both the physical self, and the spirit. Recommended Viewing.
The Nudity: Virginie Legeay and Anne Berry
For a Brisseau film, there’s surprisingly very little nudity, and apart from flashes here and there, there’s only a single surreal nude scene with Dora, played by Virginie Legeay, where she appears to be briefly making out with Death (Anne Berry).