Reel Affirmations 2003
Ma Vraie Vie a Rouen
Review by Randy Shulman
Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Thursday, 10/23/2003, 7:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Lincoln Theatre
French with English subtitles
“THIS IS THE year I’ll fall in love and get laid,” proclaims 16-year-old Etienne to his school chum Ludo. Etienne’s “year of love,” however, will evolve into one of stunning self-realization for the young man as he discovers his true sexual nature in a remarkable film you do not want to let slip by.
A budding champion figure skater, Etienne decides to keep a digital video diary of his practice sessions, and it’s from this footage that My Life on Ice is culled. The nascent director in Etienne virtually obliges the boy to utilize the camera as an extension of his personality and he begins to film everything and everyone around him, often to the point of annoyance.
Etienne’s mother Caroline, a widowed bookstore clerk, is at first tickled and later exasperated by her son’s obsession. “At least he has a passion,” observes a customer. “He has plenty,” she says, “but they’re all solitary — I wish he’d do group things.” To which an off-camera Etienne responds, “I don’t like teams.”
Over the course of the year, Etienne trains his camera on his mother and her boyfriend Laurent, his warm confection of a grandmother, and his photogenic, model-worthy friend Ludo (think a French Tom Cruise), all of whom grow accustomed, gradually, to being constantly photographed. The artfully assembled video chronicles a remarkable — and remarkably subtle — story of personal realization on Etienne’s part.
Etienne is particularly obsessed with Ludo’s sexual conquests, to the point where he secretly films an encounter between Ludo and a random pickup on the beach. Despite their warm friendship, we can sense a rift coming. When it arrives, as in life, it does so without warning and at the simplest provocation.
Produced by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (the same team responsible for The Adventures of Felix), My Life on Ice exists among the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of Reel Affirmations films I’ve reviewed over the past decade. The brilliantly edited film captures the extraordinariness of ordinary life. As we watch Etienne mature (his growth spurt is subtle but discernable), it’s impossible not to note his detachment from those around him. His self-induced loner status, however, masks a desire inevitably realized in an unexpected way, one which most of us can instantly relate to.
My Life on Ice takes cinema verite to extraordinary new heights. It is a masterpiece — unintended or not — celebrating not only the emergence of a youth’s sexuality, but the very construct of cinema itself. It may forever change the way you look at movies.