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A crowd pleaser, not much more

Agnes Jaoui and Juliette Gombert in a scene from Du Vent Dans Mes Mollets.
By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald
Little girl fights off emotional suffocation in new French dramedie

French writer and director Carine Tardieu’s Du Vent Dans Mes Mollets / Pequeñas diferencias, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Raphaële Moussafir, who also co-scripted the film, tells the story of Rachel Gladstein (Juliette Gombert), a nine-year-old girl suffocated with love by her Jewish mother, Colette (Agnés Jaouis). Rachel’s father, Michel (Denis Podalydes) is a cheerfully cynical man ,and her grandmother (Judith Magre) is an adorably treacherous woman.

Rachel dreams of being loved by her nasty blond teacher, of being accepted into the Barbie Fan Club and becoming the only friend of Marina (Laura Genovino), a classmate whose mother is dead and whose father is an English baron. But now it’s back to school. Rachel sleeps with her schoolbag on and wets her bed. Her mother insists on therapy with Madame Trebla (Isabella Rossellini), a most unusual psychiatrist keen on helping her out. And then there’s Valerie (Anna Lemarchand), another classmate who wants to become Rachel’s best friend — even if it means pestering her non-stop.

By now, you’d probably think that the theme of a child growing up and a rocky relationship with her parents has already been tackled too often to be relevant today. What could another film bring to it? Perhaps nothing much. Pequeñas diferencias is not that different from previous films about the same subject. However, since it’s quite accomplished in its own terms, and it has a charming, lightweight approach that makes it very honest, then it’s worth seeing, and even very enjoyable at times.

The actors’ fine performances have a lot to do with it. All these thespians are clearly resourceful as to what it means to build nuanced characters, even if the screenplay doesn’t provide them with distinctive traits. The kids are worthy of special mention: they are effective in many scenes thanks to their chemistry, which renders their friendship believable. Some moments with the unusual psychiatrist are also fun to watch.

Being a crowd pleaser, Du Vent Dans Mes Mollets aims at viewers’ emotions in a very straightforward manner, and for the most part, it has no missteps. But it’s also true that there are other times when the comedy side is overstated. That’s when you miss the more subtle scenes that speak of the girls’ enchanting childhood world.

All in all, Carine Tardieu’s new feature is watchable and, at times, also inspired. Expect a well-executed genre piece and you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t ask for originality.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Du Vent Dans Mes Mollets / Pequeñas diferencias. France, 2012. Written by: Carine Tardieu and Raphaele Moussafir. Directed by: Carine Tardieu. Cinematography: Antoine Monod. With: Agnés Jaouis, Juliette Gombert. NR. Running time: 90 minutes.

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