Judge Russell Engebretson admits that when it comes to embroidery, he doesn't know a bean stitch from a half hitch.
Éléonore Faucher's debut feature is a delicate and deeply moving ode to female empowerment.
Claire (Lola Naymark) is a 17-year-old farm girl who has fled her quarreling parents and found a supermarket cashier job in the city of Angoulême. She lives in a modest studio apartment and creates elaborate embroideries in her spare time. Claire is happy living on her own, but her coltish first steps into adulthood are interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy. She decides to have the baby "anonymously" and give it up for adoption. Consequently she moves once again and seeks employment with Madame Melikian (Ariane Ascaride, My Life on Ice), a middle-aged embroideress for Parisian haute couture designers.
Melikian, grief-stricken over the recent death of her 19-year-old son, is distant and cool; but she recognizes Claire's special flair for embroidery and pays her to do piece work. Later in the film, another near-tragedy unites the emotionally wounded pair of women into a sometimes uneasy, but mutually healing, bond of friendship.
Sequins is leisurely paced and sprinkled with aural cues and luminous visual details. In the opening scene, Claire steals cabbage heads from her parents' farm. The camera, in extreme close-up, slowly pans across rich, brown earth accompanied by the leafy, crunching sound of harvested cabbages. After Claire has filled her basket, she rinses the soil from her hands with milk she squeezes from a cow's teats. From this series of vivid images, without a word of dialogue, we learn all we need to know about Claire's rural upbringing. The town sequences are equally adept at visually illuminating character with minimum verbiage. The warp and woof of this film—its sensual images and sounds—is a seductively crafted ode to its women characters.
The motif of complex, decorative needlework fits right into the female-centric world of the script. In this movie men are peripheral characters that inadvertently complicate and damage the lives of Claire (her indifferent lover), and Melikian (the young man responsible for the motorcycle accident that took her son's life). The men are important in the main for how their actions affect the lives of the female characters. If I had had any doubt that this was a film for and about the fairer sex, it would have been put to rest half way through the movie: Claire is at work on a diaphanous, almost completed piece of embroidery and with a single slip of her needle tears a small hole in the spider web material. At Claire's blunder, my wife, who was watching the DVD with me, jumped and made a small, startled cry. Her reaction was as visceral as though she were watching a horror movie and a knife-wielding maniac had leaped from the shadows. She understood better than I that this was not just an elegant insert shot of a woman's hand at work on a complex piece of embroidery, but also a scene of suspense. One miniscule tear destroyed months of work, in the same way a single incident altered forever each of the women's lives.
Despite its strong female slant, Sequins is not a coarse marketing ploy to target the female demographic. It is a serene, bittersweet slice of life—honestly written and non-judgmental. The simplicity of the script works in the film's favor. The movie is almost Zen-like in its presentation; the manner in which it projects a revelatory scene could be likened to a still life-like passage from Flaubert. On the performance side, there is potential for melodramatics, but there are no distracting histrionics from the female leads; the acting is understated and intense, especially on the part of Ariane Ascaride, a veteran actress who conveys deep emotion with subtle, understated expressions and body language.
As for the DVD presentation, the Dolby 2.0 audio is crisp and clear. Dialogue, which is sparse in this primarily visual film, sounds natural when played at average volume level. Sound effects are likewise natural and unforced, and the lush, unobtrusive string score by Michael Galasso enhances the pensive quality of the film. The color pallet is rich and saturated. The contrast is good, and I did not spot any obvious DVD artifacts. My major complaint about this film is the softness of the DVD transfer. Close-ups look decent, but medium shots betray the soft image, and distant shots are downright blurry. Fortunately, it's a character driven picture, and most of the movie is composed of medium and close-up shots. I had to deduct a few points for the soft picture, but it detracts little from the film.
The New Yorker Video releases I've seen have been uniformly light on special features, and Sequins is no exception. Six minutes of deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, and a short reading of script excerpts by actress Ariane Ascaride round out the meager offering of extras.
I recommend the film to viewers who enjoy foreign, subtitled flicks that lean toward mature, non-action themes. If you're a guy, don't think of Sequins as a movie just for the gals; think of it as a movie created for grown-ups, and you will likely find it a worthy rental or purchase.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
• Actress Ariane Ascaride Reads Script Excerpts
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