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DISENCHANTED, THE (Désenchantée, La)(director/writer: Benoît Jacquot; cinematographer: Caroline Champetier; editor: Dominique Auvray; cast: Judith Godrèche (Beth), Marcel Bozonnet (Alphonse), Malcolm Conrath (Whatsishisname, The Boyfriend), Ivan Desny (Sugardad, The Uncle), Thérèse Liotard (Beth’s mother),Thomas Salsman (Rémi ), Hai Truhong Tu (Chang), Francis Mage (Edouard); Runtime: 78; First Run Features; 1990-France)
“The film had a very lively pulse which added to its intelligent drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Benoît Jacquot (A Single Girl) has created a disconcerting tale about the sufferings of a stunning 17-year-old Parisian girl, Beth (Godrèche), who due to harsh family circumstances must learn how to grow up fast without losing her childhood innocence. Her one asset in life, is her ability to attract men. How she handles the few dramatic moments of her life, right before her high school graduation, is what makes this a very French film.

The Disenchanted” opens with Beth just finishing a round of lovemaking with her repugnant boyfriend (Bozonnet) and with him watching her as she is sound asleep. He is someone she never calls by name but as a running gag throughout the film, he is called ‘Whatishisname.’ He needles her into telling him the dream she just had, as Beth reluctantly tells him it is about a young woman who blindly chooses her Prince Charming. When Beth sees him, she is shocked to see that he is an old geezer. The cocky boyfriend takes this dream personally as an insult and suggests she find someone really ugly to make love with, as a test for her love to him.

Angered by this childish challenge Beth goes to a disco and meets Eduoard (Mage), who is also 17. He’s a computer-geek who evidently meets her criteria for ugliness. But, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because he didn’t look like a train wreck to me. When Beth lures him back to his wealthy home and decides to go through with her plan, it fails to materialize when Eduoard awkwardly fondles her and she rushes out of his house.

Back with her family Beth relates to her sexually inquisitive eight year old brother Remi (Salsman), trying to feel not so lonely by having him around as a companion. Her mother (Thérèse Liotard) remains bed-ridden, telling her daughter that she depends on money given to her by Beth’s uncle, a wealthy doctor, whom they call Sugar Daddy (Ivan). Beth shows her disdain for the old rascal and his money by remaining mute in his presence. But her mother orders her to go to his house to pick up the check he gives them to meet their expenses, knowing full well what he wants from her. The mother disingenuously tells her, “I’ve done worst things to help you.”

In school Beth chooses to do her final report on the disenchanted poet Rimbaud, who has struck a chord with her because he was always leaving places to become something new. What she admires about him, is that he finally says that he must stop leaving places and make a stand where he is. Her class report, though well-received, is still challenged by her teacher who tells her how the ones giving the final exam are not sympathetic with so much of the passion in her argument.

Beth seems to be in a no-win situation in whatever she does. To get a little childish revenge, she has her artist-student friend Chang (Hai Truhong) silk-screen an image of her boyfriend on his front door and she further scribbles on the door that he’s a bastard. The boyfriend is furious that she won’t see him anymore and gives her an ultimatum to meet him in the park or else. When she meets him there he starts beating her and a middle-aged man named Alphonse (Bozonnet) comes along and pulls a knife on him, sparing her from any further harm.

Alphonse turns out to be a writer, suffering himself from the loss of a girlfriend and can’t reach out any further to her than to see her as a poor replacement.

The suffering comes to an end as Beth realizes that she has no choice but to leave home and strike out on her own. The feeling is that this three day adventure has strengthened her for all else that will befall her in life. But the optimism, what little there is, seems to be that she had the nerve to go out into the unknown alone and go after what she wanted to do with her life.

The beauty in the film is in Judith Godrèche’s portrayal that gets the most out of the terse dialogue, as Godrèche manages to look both vulnerable and alluring in many different poses. Godrèche fits the lifestyle of the existential heroine…a female version of a Camus hero or a Rimbaud protagonist. The film had a very lively pulse which added to its intelligent drama. The heroine is seen as being both the object of someone else’s desire and someone with powerful desires of her own.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”