*A 2006 U.S. Release*
Jrme Bonnell's debut feature, Le Chignon d'Olga, has drawn comparisons with Eric Rohmers work and its not hard to see why: the overall sense of "lightness," assured camera movements, nuanced emotions, naturalistic settings, etc. certainly evoke various aspects of the master -- and lets not forget the title, which reminds one of Rohmer's Le Genou de Claire (1970). Bonnell's film is set in a provincial town in Southern France during the month of August when most of France shuts down; however, for his characters, the desolateness is not merely physical, but emotional as well. The focus is on a family which has just lost its matriarch. In an attempt to fill this void, Julien (Hubert Benhamdine), a teenager who was once a promising pianist, becomes obsessed with a young bookstore clerk named Olga whose hair is always in a bun ("chignon"). He also shares a platonic bond with a slightly older Alice (Nathalie Boutefeu), who is constantly involved in troublesome relationships. Julien's young sister, Emma (Florence Loiret), is also having a tough time, not only with the loss, but also with attempts to discover her own sexuality. Meanwhile their father (Serge Riaboukine), a failing writer, is having to deal with sexual advances from an old friend. Their conversations together are hollow and ripe with pathos even though they try their best to extricate themselves, which is mostly with Charlie Chaplins The Circus (1928) constantly being playing on television.
Le Chignon d'Olga is full of small, intricate moments between various characters, as if they were trying to capture as much of each other as possible knowing full well that they'll eventually grow apart. This sense of purpose is partly what distinguishes the film from other works that deal with a certain loss. Bonnells doesnt succeed as well with his comedic attempts (especially the sequence in which Julien tries win over Olga), but he does manages to keep things fairly light. The title character, which according to the director was added in late, also isn't embedded properly, even though the final shot explicates her metaphorical being. But a little more than halfway through the film, Bonnell stages a remarkable sequence which convincingly displays the talents of this 20-something filmmaker: on an overcast day, Julien visits his mothers grave (perhaps for the first time) with Alice, and we simply observe their movements, nothing is said because nothing needs to be said and this more or less becomes the dramatic center for the film. Overall, the performances are first rate, but Nathalie Boutefeu stands out as she often seems to be gliding through the frame (almost a little like what Jeanne Balibar does so well). Le Chignon d'Olga visits an emotional and psychological terrain which has been explored before, yet somehow the journey still feels fresh.
*This much acclaimed film was released in France in 2002. Unfortunately, it wasn't released theatrically in the U.S. but a DVD is now available.
*Artificial-Eye was the film's U.K. distributor.
[Edit] Added Grade/DVD info