Review: Villa Amalia (2009)


Directed by: Benoît Jacquot | 91 minutes | drama | Actors: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Xavier Beauvois, Maya Sansa, Clara Bindi, Viviana Aliberti, Michelle Marquais, Peter Arens, Ignazio Oliva, Jean-Pierre Gos, Jean-Michel Portal, Maurice Bernart, Jean Coulon, Massato, Florence d’Azémar

“Villa Amalia” opens with images of Paris in which Ann (Isabelle Huppert) chases another car in the dark, during a heavy rain shower. When that car stops, a man gets out. It is her partner Thomas (Xavier Beauvois), with whom she has been living for a long time. He rings the bell and is apparently expected. When the door opens, a woman embraces him and kisses him deeply. So Thomas has a mistress. While she is still watching, petrified, she is tapped on the shoulder by a man asking if she is spying. It’s Georges (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a childhood friend from the past, when she was still living in Brittany. He recognizes her immediately, but her memories of him initially leave her behind. The chance meeting with Georges will play an all-important role in her later life. Ann tells him why she is there, but does not want to talk about it. She remains extremely distant.

Georges and Ann tell each other some faits diverse about their lives on the street. Ann stops the boat and abruptly declines a request for a cup of coffee. She has already made a mental decision to end her relationship with Thomas. Somewhere deep within her lies latent dissatisfaction with her existence. She is going to talk to Georges anyway and only wants to use him instrumentally as a kind of sounding board. When she comes home late at night, she coolly informs her now home Thomas that the relationship is over and that he will have to leave. She wants to bring about a total break with her current life and puts her luxury apartment up for sale. Everything including furniture, her precious wing must be sold in the shortest possible time. The break with the past must be complete and she is willing to accept any consequences without reservation. Her partner Thomas is not further informed of all this.

Ann is a successful concert pianist, but is canceling all promised concerts as part of her break with her current life. Georges is employed by her as an agent to manage her money. In the end, Ann starts a journey with no more than an overnight bag and some clothes (plus a lot of cash) to a destination still unknown.

The film story follows Ann on her journey. Her break with the past is complete, she literally throws away her old clothes several times along the way, radically changes her appearance and hairstyle and undergoes a metamorphosis. The search for a new identity continues. We follow her during that quest and she deals in travel and other experiences. These experiences follow each other in rapid succession, but remain rather fragmentary for the viewer. Encounters are hardly explored. During this trip Ann comes to a kind of inner peace and eventually ends up at an old Italian Villa, dreamlike and paradisiacal with a sea view. The journey to this Villa Amalia, especially the part in which she stays in Italy, has beautiful locations and has been beautifully filmed from a cinematographic point of view. The camera is almost constantly close to the actors, but because Ann reveals little of herself, it remains difficult at the same time what exactly moves her to want to erase her old identity so emphatically.

The story provides indications that the death of a little brother has a major influence, while the relationship with the mother and the father who disappeared early from her life has also been difficult. The film does not give the viewer a direct answer here, the viewer has to guess for herself about her motives. In the developments, the emphasis is on telling through strong visual language. Symbolism is strongly represented, the storyline less accessible. The dialogues are limited and the story develops – partly due to the way of editing – somewhat jerkily and at a fairly slow pace. This threatens to draw attention to the beautiful images themselves. The form seems to transcend the content, the story ripples on smoothly without too much drama, so that the tension is on the low side at times. Isabelle Huppert is a strong actor, such characters are perfect for her. She is as mysterious as ever, but also untouchable and calculating. The way she leaves everything behind, burns her photos and CDs and disconnects from her old world by throwing away her cell phone has been greatly affected. All those doubts and determined search are convincingly portrayed, properly supported by the music that enhances the alienating atmosphere of the story. For the fans of Isabel

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