Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Karin Viard stuns in Lucie Borleteau's based-on-real-life, parents'-worst-nightmare tale, THE PERFECT NANNY

Over her nearly 35-years as an actress, French-born Karin Viard (shown at right and below) has taken on almost 100 roles at this point in her prolific, multi-César-winning career. If this star is not that well-known to American audiences, it's only because she's not Catherine Deneuve or Juliette Binoche. (Regarding foreign-born actresses, we tend to stick solely with the biggest names.) TrustMovies barely noticed her in her earliest films, Tatie Danielle and Delicatessen (those films far overpowered their supporting performances), but as the star of the small, funny, incisive movie The New Eve, Ms Viard certainly came into her own, and she has remained there ever since, gracing such films as Time Out, The Role of Her Life, Polisse and My Piece of the Pie with her versatility and expertise.

Now with the new (to the USA, at least) film, THE PERFECT NANNY (Chanson douce), Viard gets one of of those roles so good -- simultaneously horrible, entrancing and powerful -- that this actress simply takes hold of and runs off with the movie. And she does it without benefit of the script giving her the usual psychologically explanatory back-story. What we learn of that, in any case, may be completely fabricated. Instead, Viard -- by virtue of her ability to draw us in to the mystery of what she may be thinking and feeling and still keep us guessing (and hoping) -- is able to create a full-bodied, hugely imposing character who is strange, sad, funny, almost hopeful, even sexy (her full-frontal nude scenes are among the most special and appealing/disturbing I've scene in a long while).

As directed and co-written and adapted (with Jérémie Elkaïm, from the novel by Leïla Slimani) by Lucie Borleteau, shown at right, the movie gives leading lady Viard the wherewithal to create her amazing character, the nanny Louise, out of perhaps the least obvious of tools. Instead of the usual information-filled and often heavy-handed backstory, it is the details we get of the day-to-day interaction Louise has with the two children she cares for, their parents -- well-played by Leïla Bekhti and Antoine Reinartz, shown left and center, respectively, below -- as well as the few other characters, mostly nannies and shopkeepers, the film allows us to meet.

Some of these people, in fact, are as impressed with Louise and how she relates to her two charges (shown below), as are the parents and we in the audience. If only the US distributor had kept something closer to the film's original title (which translates into English as either Sweet Song or Lullaby), rather than The Perfect Nanny, which will alert any vaguely intelligent adult that, hey, this nanny is going to be anything but perfect. Oh, well. Considering how dumbed-down so many audiences seem currently to be, I guess you've got to spell out fucking everything. Thank goodness the movie itself refuses to do this.

The other quite special thing about this film is how slow-burn/quiet-build it proves to be. Folk more used to the standard and probably expected approaching-horror-movie style will get antsy, of course, but those who appreciate character over fast-paced plotting will rejoice, as the film consistently gives its characters room to breathe, if not, unfortunately, the ability to grow.

Finally, if objections are raised such as "How could those parents relegate the care of their kids to this woman?", well, come on now: Working parents, which more and more people must be these days (or, as in this case, choose to be), have to use child care-givers, and the movie, the novel on which it is based, and in fact the true-life tale that began the ball rolling brings to life every working parent's worst nightmare. How the film so naturally, cleverly and effectively taps into this is a huge part of its strength. That, and the marvelous Ms Viard. The monster she creates here is as memorable as any you'll have seen.

From Distrib Films US and distributed via Icarus Home Video, in French with English subtitles and running just 99 minutes, The Perfect Nanny makes its American DVD debut today, Tuesday, June 23 -- for purchase (and eventually, I'm sure, for rental).

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