Léonor Serraille’s film opens with an inspiring portrait of a young Ivorian mother arriving in France, before returning to her two sons and dying there.
What a beautiful portrait of a woman opening a bookA little brotherLéonor Serraille’s second feature film, in competition at the Cannes Film Festival last year (the director had already received the Camera d’Or there in 2017 for Young lady). Rose (the formidable Annabelle Lengronne) arrives from the Ivory Coast in France in 1989, with her two young sons under her wing, and settles in with relatives in the suburbs of Paris. Determined to take advantage of this new freedom (a somewhat awkward voice, that of one of the boys, explains that he will not open “his suitcases full of pain” and we shall know nothing of what preceded it), so Rose flies hither and thither, suffocating the sane man who appears to her (“Is that your real name Julius Caesar?” she laughs), preferring to fall in love with a Tunisian construction worker who works on the roof in front of the hotel where she is employed as a maid. You have to see her sprawled out on the living room carpet in the apartment she’s staying in, munching on chocolates on her way back from a night of partying to become decidedly smitten with this character, to whom the actress gives a joyful obstinacy, a determined gaiety, in complete opposition to the gravity of his surroundings. We look forward to discovering what life has in store for him and how he will cope.
Yes! This is not the program of a younger brother who, embarking on less cheerful tracks and busy writing a large family fresco, then chooses to break down two more “chapters” dedicated to the two boys. The problem is that Rose almost disappears there entirely, as if the film condemned what had settled her there, and that the two brothers buckle under the weight of the script’s intentions. Jean, who is nevertheless convincingly voiced by Stéphane Bak, is the older brother, overwhelmed by the expectations that weigh on his shoulders – to be the best, not to complain, as announced in part 1. Ernest, the youngest (Ahmed Sylla, who does his best with a role that has just been sketched out) withdraws from the game, as cadets generally do. That’s about all we can say about him, the stages of his journey are left to our imaginations. The film suffers from this overabundance of demonstration, while strangely, the off-screen France of the 90s is often there only as an afterthought, struggling to find its place in a construction, nevertheless, an important part.
A little brother by Léonor Serraille, with Annabelle Lengronne, Stéphane Bak and Ahmed Sylla… (1h56).