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The memory of Catherine Deneuve's youthful beauty adds a special poignancy to her portrait of a middle-aged lawyer coping with painful memories of the past after taking in her aging mother in this 1993 drama. With no obvious plot, the film simply observes the strains the new presence puts on Deneuve's immediate family and the strains a new home puts on her mother (Marthe Villalonga). Everything comes to a head when Deneuve breaks a three-year estrangement to invite her brother (Daniel Auteuil) to visit for the holidays.
Director Andre Techine was part of the post-New Wave movement in France. Like such original New Wave directors as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, he started out as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema before moving into film direction. After assistant directing for Jacques Rivette on L'Amour Fou (1969) and filming two shorts, he made his feature directing debut with Paulina s'en va (1969), a film so unconventional it was not released until 1975. By that time, his second theatrical feature, French Provincial (1974), had established him as a major talent. That film also established his hallmarks as a director in its use of multiple story threads involving members of a single family as a microcosm for contemporary society. Techine rarely indulges in overt dramatics, rather capturing complicated relationships through the details of everyday life and the often subtle interactions between his characters. The center of the emotional turmoil is usually a wife and mother struggling with her own role within the family structure. Those characters have provided low-key showcases for some of France's greatest actresses, starting with Jeanne Moreau in French Provincial and continuing with Juliette Binoche (1985's Rendez-vous and 1998's Alice et Martin), Emmanuelle Beart (2003's Strayed and 2007's The Witnesses), Carole Bouquet (2011's Unforgivable) and Deneuve.
As in most of his films, in My Favorite Season Techine focuses less on social issues than the simple details of everyday life. He captures Deneuve and Auteuil's mingled guilt and hostility as they deal with their aging mother and their own tortured pasts. And he also depicts the restlessness of Deneuve's children, daughter Chiara Mastroianni (Deneuve's own child) and adopted son Anthony Prada. There are moments when the camera simply sits still as the characters interact. The naturalness is compounded by the actors' improvisations, a practice he started using on his first film with Deneuve, Hotel America (1981).
This is the third of six films Deneuve has made with Techine, more than she has made with any other director. Under his sensitive direction, she blossomed as an actress, turning in densely layered performances as women afflicted with conflicting desires. Where her pristine, blonde beauty had often served directors as a blank slate on which to project their own obsessions, as in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965) and Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1967), Techine probed her beauty to display the soul that lay underneath. The result has been a series of unforgettable performances -- as an estranged wife drawn to her son's attacker in Scene of the Crime (1986), the widow of a loveless marriage in Thieves (1996) and the mother of a young woman who creates a media sensation when she claims to have been the victim of anti-Semitic violence in The Girl on the Train (2009). For many critics, her Emilie in My Favorite Season -- torn between family responsibilities and the need for freedom and haunted by her twisted relationship with her brother -- is her best performance.
To play Deneuve's brother, Techine cast another major French film star, Auteuil, who had co-starred previously with Deneuve in L'Agression (1975) and A Nous Deux (1979). Director and stars would reunite for Thieves in 1995. For the role of Khadija ("Radish"), Deneuve and her husband's Moroccan secretary who's involved with both their son and their daughter, Techine cast Carmen Chaplin, one of Charlie Chaplin's grandchildren. Marthe Villalonga's performance as Deneuve and Auteuil's mother was particularly powerful for French audiences, who knew her primarily as a comic actress in films like Pardon Mon Affaire (1976) and its sequel, We Will All Meet in Paradise (1977). Techine would give her a chance to display her talents for dramatic subtlety in their three films together, Les Innocents (1987), My Favorite Season and Alice et Martin.After opening the 46th Cannes Film Festival, where it was a contender for the Golden Palm, My Favorite Season went on to become Techine's biggest box-office success in France. Despite that, American distributors were uninterested until the director's Wild Reeds (1994), the story of three young people coming of age during the Algerian War, became an art-house hit. When My Favorite Season premiered in the U.S., critics compared it to the works of Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavetes because of its emotional probing of family relationships. The picture did respectable art-house business and won the Boston Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Producer: Alain Sarde
Director: Andre Techine
Screenplay: Pascal Bonitzer, Techine
Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Score: Philippe Sarde
Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Emilie), Daniel Auteuil (Antoine), Marthe Villalonga (Berthe), Jean-Pierre Bouvier (Bruno), Chiara Mastroianni (Anne), Anthony Prada (Lucien), Carmen Chaplin (Khadija)
By Frank Miller