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Les Petites vacances
cast: Bernadette Lafont, Adele Csech, Lucas Franchi, Claire Nadeau, and Claude Brasseur

director: Olivier Peyon

87 minutes (PG) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Dogwoof DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Olivier Peyon's Les Petites vacances ('stolen holidays') falls victim to the better films that precede it. I refer to subtly told tales of misadventures in emotional crises. It's what the French excel at. It's all there, the ingrained (if badly done, forced) quirkiness, the unpredictable behaviour, the minor diversions from the narrative norm and the subdued pleasing or haunting conclusion. In French cinema the genre films also import these elements with some success. Enter this territory without a genre comfort zone or escape route, and you set yourself up for brutal comparison to the masters so you had better be able to come up with the goods. The problem with Les Petites vacances is that it is never, at any point, enough. Though it mimics the inscrutability of Rohmer, it is never sufficiently interesting despite a superb central performance by veteran bad girl, now a veritable doyen of wickedness, Bernadette Lafont. Les Petites vacances is never amusing enough; never worrying enough, never bold enough. Its message is immediate and can only thereupon become enforced. It is a decent time noodler, eminently harmless, but the general shortfalls cloy.

Lafont is a retired schoolteacher conducting her annual escort of the grandchildren, Marine and Thomas (Adele Csech and Lucas Franchi), between her daughter and son-in-law who are separated. The girl is the older of the two, pubescent and insouciant, balking at grandmother's gift bangle, the boy borderline hyperactive and responsive but as emotionally unattached. Lafont later lays out her fears by recommending they make the most of their holiday with her as she might be dead soon but all Marine does is laugh and Thomas barely registers any meaning. In the whirligig of modern distractions grandparents have been relegated to a position of minor interest, a musty irrelevant appendage that will be felt only when they are gone.

The modern kid is spoiled. The group guess at the prices of expensive rooms at the palace hotel standing by the lake. "But that doesn't increase happiness," says the grandmother, "It sounds like a waste of money." ... "Yeah, but it's still cool," responds Thomas. Grandmother understands that she will, at the very least, have to buy their time and company. She hopes not to have to pay for their affection too. When father is postponed, she chooses not to leave the children with his girlfriend and instead takes the opportunity of more time with the grandkids. During the short sojourn Marine matter-of-factly reveals that this could be the last year with a necessary escort as mother forecasts Marine next year will be old enough to take responsibility over her brother during the train journey. Grandmother absconds with the children though as far as they know their father is subject to further this time fictional delays.

Grandmother's behaviour continues to be erratic. She tells lies that are drastic and badly managed. She lays on treats for the three of them that she probably cannot afford. She squeezes into the expensive dress she has bought for Martine and then dances the night away with an elderly gentleman, the last man standing at a wedding party, telling him that she is a divorcee, then telling him the truth. She suffers a Stendhahl-like faint at the sight of a sky-full of kites and behaves like a stalker, following Martine and her new friends to a remote bathing spot at a school retreat familiar to the family. The circumstances become more uncomfortable, the children unhappy, Martine fighting back. Then the game is up, followed by the inevitable crowd pleaser as Martine rallies by her grandmother and instigates the next leg of the journey.

Les Petites vacances is a film teetering on disappointment, bobbing along in a light fugue. Three shorts accompany the feature, a tribute to Bernadette Lafont and two earlier films by Oliver Peyon. The two Peyon short films only confirm the director's shortcomings, a contentedness in half an idea or a weak whimsy. A Tes Amours (To Love) from 2001, and running at nearly seven minutes is an inconsequential ode to unrequited love. Claque Apres Etirents (Warm Ups, Turn Heart) from the same year is equally unnecessary, a series of skyline encounters and jibber-jabber about office affairs and fancies. At 23 minutes it goes nowhere really. The three profile the director as a maker of half-hearted, visionarily redundant drama. Strictly Bernadette, a 14-minute adoration of the film's star is a choppy collection of footage and interviews, both old and new. Lafont's naughtiness is a huge chunk of her star quality and one cannot fail to appreciate her in it. Clips include the rude tale of a fan that went on bended knee before her, which was expected to come as an umpteenth marriage proposal. Not so, said the fan, he merely wanted to kiss her crotch... which was much less complicated... and surprisingly, if her account is to be believed, permissible.

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