Like a grown-up Alice stepping into Wonderland, Parisian fortysomething (‘Caroline’ played by Isabelle Carré) arrives at her recently deceased mother’s country house in southern France to organise her funeral. She finds her mother’s corpse, resembling a man in drag, in the master bedroom. She wasn’t close to her mother, and as she meets the house’s other ‘residents’ and the villagers, a new world opens up.
There’s Karin Viard’s sexually-charged Pattie (whose name holds the title, but not the lead). Pattie’s an Amazonian-bodied woman who gives cheek-reddening, graphic accounts of her sexual liaisons. And then there’s Jean (André Dussollier), a famous novelist who shows up saying he was her dead mother’s lover. Jean’s passions are dark, macabre, a contrast to the comic buffoon who lives in the village, performed by a jangling Denis Lavant.
21 Nuits avec Pattie presents, on surface level, as light and fluffy. The characters are witty and warm, and there’s a surreal, summery brighter-than-normal light that falls on each scene, and in particular Caroline as she walks through the woodland. So much so, that the film presents as a fairytale.
But it’s a disturbing fairytale. Following the disappearance of the corpse, necrophilia is discussed and it’s clear that there’s a loose, yet oddly charming, ‘anything-goes’ morality among the characters. They are all off-centre, more surprising and twisted than we are originally led to believe. So much so, it is difficult to know how to respond.
Directors Jean-Marie and Arnaud Larrieu playfully lift the stones that hold our papery perceptions of the world in place. The brothers question our mainstream moral perception of the world and we’re left disorientated: in the surreal summery light, the eccentric characters strangely makes sense. It’s unsettling, and it is precisely this that makes 21 Nuits avec Pattie worth watching.
Carré’s performance is exquisite. Resisting an uptight Parisian stereotype, Caroline is more ethereal than the oddly masculine apparitions of her dead mother. She enters her mother’s world like a child walking into the circus tent: pale and translucent, a curious watcher, startled by what she sees.
Quietly she opens herself up to a transformation. Her sexuality is re-awakened. Not through frolic or a passionate affair (although she gets close), but by joining the dots in her observations of an unusual world and simply letting it touch her. Just like it should.
Directors: Jean-Marie and Arnaud Larrieu (2015)