A little brother: Léonor Serraille closes the 2022 Cannes competition in style [critique]

The director of Jeune femme recounts the daily life of an Ivorian mother and her two sons who arrived in France in 1989 over more than 30 years. A scriptwriting gesture as virtuoso as it is clear.

Like Lukas Dhont yesterday, Léonor Serraille is making his debut in the Cannes competition with a feature film succeeding the Caméra d’Or which had rewarded his first. In this case the swirling Young womancarried by an iconoclastic humor and the incredible slaughter of Laetitia Dosch (also present in A little brother). And like Lukas Dhont, Léonor Serraille does not miss his entry into the competition. Inspired by the story of someone who has shared her life for years, she signs here the chronicle of an Ivorian family from the 80s to the present day. The eventful, chaotic but first and foremost vibrant destiny of a single mother who came with her two children to settle in the Parisian suburbs in 1989. All in just two hours. And the result is proving to be up to the stated ambition.

Because beyond the political and social aspect of such an undertaking, A little brother is seen first and foremost as a character film, a thousand miles from the sadly banal subject film. In this case, a woman anything but submissive who, despite all the obstacles put in her way, intends to live her life as she sees fit. A big brother moved by an inner rage that will become explosive when he realizes that he will never be able to live the destiny he had imagined in his head. And the little brother, the one who gives the film its title, who will tempt him to learn the lessons of all these often tragic adventures to steer his boat despite the storms. All encapsulated in a virtuoso scriptwriting gesture where the filmmaker places each of these three gazes in turn at the center of her chaptered story, in a fluidity never faulted and by making secondary characters tumble down next to them, emerging as if jump in a merry-go-round before we gradually get to know them.

Yes, A little brother is a character film. We experience this film through their joys, their sorrows, their rage, their dreams, their moments of dejection, the moments when hope returns. All without the slightest complacency pain. Léonor Serraille never overlooks her characters, any more than she judges them. She avoids any over-dramatization of situations like the plague. She does not need to seek to move since from the first minutes, the spectator that we are feels what her characters feel. Thanks to the virtuosity of the writing therefore, to the enveloping image of Hélène Louvart, Alice Rohrwacher’s cinematographer and to an insane cast. Stéphane Bak, who is definitely living an exceptional year on the big screen after Twist in Bamako by Robert Guédiguian. Ahmed Sylla, hero of the final part of the story, in a register far from that of the comedy which made him known but which he embraces with total evidence. And then the one that runs through every minute of the film, including when she disappears from the screen. The one who plays this mother facing head-on the weight of the mental load over more than three decades. Her name is Annabelle Lengronne. We have seen it so far in The Kairas, Mercurials, So far, so good, prostitutes or in Men on the verge of a nervous breakdown by Audrey Dana, currently showing. But with A little brotherit takes on another dimension in what will remain as one of the fairest and most powerful compositions of this 2022 Cannes competition, which Eléonor Serraille’s film therefore closes in style.

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