Inevitably, being a French film and all that, there’s a little bit of nudity here and there in Avril as a young woman who has lived all her life in a convent comes to an awareness of senses that have never been explored when she sets off on a personal mission to uncover a vital link to her past before she takes her final vows as a nun. While a journey of emotional and sexual awakening can be predictably expected, Gérald Hustache-Mathieu’s film manages nevertheless to explore the situation with some delicacy and artistry.
Novice Avril (Sophie Quinton) is about to undertake the final rituals that will confirm her entry into a Trappist order of Strict Observance, but having been taken into the convent by nuns as a young orphan child and having never known the world outside, it’s not a difficult decision for the young woman to make. But can the choice really be meaningful if she doesn’t know what it is she is rejecting? Sister Bernadette (Miou-Miou) puts some fresh doubts in her mind, telling her that when she came to the convent she wasn’t alone, but with a baby brother who was given over to a Jesuit orphanage.
While the Sister Superior Mary Josephine (Geneviève Casile) believes that she is on a two week solitary retreat of silence and fasting, painting the Holy Chapel, Avril then, with the assistance of a young man Pierre (Nicolas Duvauchelle) she has met on the road, has actually taken off for a beach in Normandy where her she has been told her brother David (Clément Sibony) has gone on holiday with his girlfriend. Arriving there, however and meeting the brother she has never known, Avril finds that it is not a girlfriend he is with, but another boy, Jim (Richaud Valls). It’s one of a series of revelations about the way life is lived in the world that the young woman is to discover during her holiday away from the convent.
If all that sounds a little schematic and predictable, the film does indeed tend towards a fairly safe and predictable dramatic path, with situations and revelations that are not entirely unexpected. There are several elements however that lift the film above the average. Certainly Sophie Quinton’s sweet performance helps establish an appropriate tone for the emotional journey undertaken by the novice nun, but the director also manages to explore the circumstances of her emotional and sexual awakening without exploiting the situation. Using the innocent viewpoint of the young woman who has never really experienced life, the director finds a way of looking at the world afresh without lies and self-deception.
The manner in which this is achieved is expertly handled, using Avril’s interest in painting and contrasting her vision of the beauty of the world with the actual participation in it, which in the end she achieves to a large extent through art. It’s not La Belle Noiseuse, but the interaction between each of the characters in Avril is just as strong, as are the sensations and themes the film explores, finding in their everyday lives, professions and family connections all the elements that give life richness and meaning and showing how even the simplest of pleasures can be felt deeply and intensely.
Avril is released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is not region coded.
Transferred progressively and anamorphically at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the video transfer has excellent tone and colouration which captures the cold blues and browns of the convent equally as well as the beaches and landscapes of northern France. Each have an appropriate a cool clarity, the image sharp and detailed, the print unmarked. Macroblocking artefacts however are a problem, backgrounds seeming to pulsate when the film is viewed on a progressive display device. These are less evident on outdoor scenes, but seem to be evident throughout interior shots. Some minor edge-enhancement may also be visible. On a CRT display however, these digital flaws are unnoticeable, and the picture is as good as perfect.
Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 options are provided, both sounding clear with a good tone. Evidently, the stereo mix is more direct, while the surround mix has better separation, ambience and reverb where appropriate. It’s hard to find any fault here or great difference either, so either option will more than suffice.
English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are optional.
The Making of Avril (24:16)
Showing rehearsals and filming at both principal locations, the cast talk about their characters and roles and how they each got on together. The director, set designer and DoP also talk about their intentions for the film. More than an EPK featurette, there is also a look at the director’s earlier short and medium length features, also starring Sophie Quinton.
Short Film: Peau de Vache (21:31)
Gérald Hustache-Mathieu’s first short feature Peau de Vache (Cowhide) is a quirky little feature with a nice fairy-tale aspect. Sophie Quinton stars as Claudine, a young farm girl who is unwilling to take her duties and responsibilities seriously. Wearing a coat of cow skin, she has fallen in love with one of the bulls. The film is non-anamorphic widescreen, and has fixed English subtitles, but the quality of the transfer is excellent.
Short Film: Watch The Stars! (9:49)
A 2007 retro-futuristic short film by Elisabeth Butterfly, Clement Sibony (David in Avril) stars as Tortu, the French inventor of rocket holidays to the moon, who has troubled business dealings with an English entrepreneur.
Trailers are also included for current Peccadillo film and DVD releases.
Gérald Hustache-Mathieu’s debut feature is a sensitive and charming film. There’s certainly a degree of artifice in its dramatic situation of the reencounter of two twins separated at birth, one gay and one a nun, but the director uses these aspects of their personalities to draw truths about family, relationships and the simple pleasures of living that can be attained through them. Peccadillo Pictures present the film on DVD with their usual attention to specifications, providing a relatively good transfer with an excellent selection of worthwhile bonus features.