In Noémie Lvovsky’s film Oublie-Moi, its main character is Nathalie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), but the opening image is of her best friend, Christelle (Emmanuelle Devos). Connected by their clasped hands and a resulting twirl (motivating a connective pan of the camera), they dance together in Christelle’s apartment to Patti Smith’s “Distant Fingers”. These opening seconds are already enough to endear them, aided by Lvovksy and her cameraman, Jean-Marc Fabre, capturing it all in an uninterrupted take. Like Agnès Godard and Claire Denis, Farbre and Lvovsky know best when *not* to move the camera. As such, it’s the performers who astonish, not the virtuoso take that captures them.
Nathalie spends the rest of the film going to and from former and current suitors (the imperceptible line between “former” and “current” is among Nathalie’s gifts; the film’s also). The first she speaks to is a dishevelled-looking Eric (Laurent Grevill), repelled by her mere presence, both of them unfavoured by the harsh and truthful-looking fluorescents of the Paris metro. The next boy in her orbit is her off/on, live-in boyfriend, Antoine (Emmanuel Salinger), arriving at this metro location to lend a seemingly desperate Nathalie a 100 franc note (one she immediately throws on the train tracks). The third is Christelle’s own boyfriend, Fabrice, arriving to Nathalie and Christelle (again, seemingly pulled in from the ether into Nathalie’s metro space) in a drunken stupor and, at first glance, Nathalie’s equal in a skittish nervous energy – one that reunites them later in the film for a botched bed-in in his barren apartment (Rarely has a colour film rendered Paris apartments so desolate and white, excepting perhaps Bresson’s post-Mouchette output).
Nathalie’s encounter with Fabrice, building from the opening dance, strengthens a flow that courses through the rest of the film (it’s also the second musical sequence in the film, this time set to the strains of Lou Reed’s “There is No Time”). Remembering a phone number insisted upon by Fabrice, Nathalie uses a pocket of her unending, waking hours to show up at his place with a bottle of gin. They subsequently souse themselves from it, unchanging in their composure or speech. Fabrice proceeds to strip to his underwear and covers himself in a sheet on his thin, floor-bound mattress. In response, Nathalie strips completely nude and lies beside him, ridiculing his face as they stare each other down on the mattress. Every version of this scene not involving Nathalie would be a traditional sex scene, but this version is invariably less interesting than the one that we’re shown. Nathalie seems only capable in relating to others if she simultaneously attracts and repels them; they must re-iterate (and sometimes repeat verbatim) the words she spits out at them. By the time she has ventriloquised these suitors, they’ve already left her sight, abandoning – yet again – what drew them to her in the first place (i.e. that same energy that introduced us to her).
She isn’t only a repellent force, but a catalyst for change; a discriminatory one that retains, within her gravitational pull, all those willing/stupid enough to be held up by such emotional hostility. Partially externalised through flinty and reactive movements – the flick of a hand or biting of her tongue – all of which fuse Tedeschi’s freedom as a performer to that of her character. It goes without saying that her performance is remarkable; beyond that, she has a freedom few performers have had since. A good narrative film usually has both an intelligent director and an intelligent lead actor; it’s seldom the case that the director lets this intelligent actor move freely, unbounded by “marks” of tape on the floor or a dictatorial DP and/or first AC. Lvovksy is among a group of French filmmakers underrated outside of France and more well known as an actor, like Mathieu Amalric (both also got their start behind the camera with Arnaud Desplechin). Amalric, and presumably Lvovsky also, see acting as a means to financially support their directing efforts. But as with Oublie-moi’s opening, their practical understanding of performance flows through to their performers (many of whom are already close friends/collaborators of these filmmaker(s)).
We (the viewer, the filmmakers and, eventually, her surrounding characters) must admire the behavioural boundaries she pushes. Because placed within a film, these are dramaturgical boundaries also. For Lvovsky and Tedeschi – up until the film’s final frame (seemingly made frozen by Nathalie’s smile) – all formal liberties are a result of a charitable-yet-unblinking gaze, and the resulting freedoms captured from said gaze. They’re enough to – not only justify – but conduct Nathalie’s inner light.