Le Chignon d'Olga Review

Jérôme Bonnell’s first full-length feature film Le Chignon d’Olga with its look at young relationships and the capturing of the transition between childhood and maturity, has earned many obvious comparisons with Eric Rohmer and not just because of the similarity of the title to Rohmer’s classic Le Genou de Claire. Only 23 years old when he wrote and directed the film based on autobiographical events, Bonnell may be closer in age to his subjects, but lacks the skill and insight of the elder French master.

There is very little in the way of real plot to Le Chignon d’Olga - it’s more a study of relationships, focussing on one family who are trying to come to terms with the loss of the mother at at critical stage in their life, just as they are approaching changes in their own lives. Julien (Hubert Benhamdine) has a crush on Olga, the girl who works in a bookstore – the sensual bun of hair drawn up from the nape of her neck the symbol of his misplaced desire. Julien makes a few a few awkward attempts to get her attention, but as the summer comes to an end, she seems unattainable. Meanwhile, he is trying to help his childhood friend Alice (Nathalie Boutefeu) get over a bad relationship break-up. His sister, Emma (Florence Loiret) is unsure about her sexuality and wonders if she might be gay. Their father (Serge Riaboukine), a widower, is unsure how to deal with the advances of the wife of one of his friends who runs a bar. Behind it all and exerting a strong influence on all the characters is the shadow of their mother, who died the previous year.

The film works well at examining the passion of relationships and the inherent fragility that such intense love generates, pairing it well with the loss of the mother and the effect this has on their lives. She is not in the film, but her presence is felt throughout all the family’s actions, their doubts and their hesitancy. Just as they need to move on from their loss, so they also need to make a big step forward emotionally in their relationships, something each of them is hesitant to do. It is unfortunate that Bonnell’s film is inevitably going to be compared with Rohmer, against which it cannot but fail to live up to, lacking the lightness of touch, the flow of dialogue and the realism of Rohmer’s observations and characterisation. On its own terms however Le Chignon d’Olga has much to recommend – a unifying purpose and an underlying mood that doesn’t need to be too explicitly stated or laboured upon. The ending, while not unexpected, is at least dramatically consistent and in step with the film’s purpose, at least as far as Julien’s development is concerned – the film however seems to forget about his father and his sister and crucially fails to bring their characters’ emotional or story arc’s to any conclusion.

The picture quality can hardly be faulted. It’s nice to see a film on DVD look like a film, with no digital artefacts, no edge-enhancement or any flaw to detract from the strong, clear tones and perfect level of grain. Even dark and half-light day-for-night scenes show solid blacks and good detail. It’s not perfect, but it looks as it should, perfectly matching the film’s tone and mood, so I can’t really justify not giving it full marks.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track for this film is more than adequate – there is no requirement for a surround track. The sound is strong and dynamic, making good use of the full width of front speakers for directional effects and ambient sounds.

Subtitles are good, clear and removable. No errors or bugs this time.

Jérôme Bonnell interview (26:18)
The young director is interviewed and speaks English very well. He talks about the personal aspects of the film and how the actors brought their ideas to the characters, often improvising actions outside the script. He is quite honest (perhaps overly so) about what he sees as the film’s weaknesses, citing lack of budget and experience as reasons for not getting his full vision on the screen. The interview makes good use of clips from the film to illustrate comments, but perhaps over-explains the film’s themes and plot.

Trailer (1:20)
The trailer, shown letterboxed at 1.85:1, shows a funny scene from the film which isn’t really representative of the film’s tone but is amusing nonetheless.

Le Chignon d’Olga doesn’t always have a consistency of purpose or tone, being rather heavy-handed in some places, but delightfully sublime in others. It’s an exceptional first film though from such a young director who could certainly go on to better things with a larger budget and an experienced co-writer. Artificial Eye’s Region 2 DVD release is, like the film, modestly impressive.

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out of 10

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