Jeune Femme (4 stars)

Jeune Femme

Director Léonor Serraille and star Laetitia Dosch join forces for a terrific comedy drama

For all its allure, French cinema has often tended toward overly fragrant depictions of femininity, so Jeune Femme's antagonistic and imperfect lead feels refreshing. Writer-director Léonor Serraille makes her debut with a characterful comedy drama, featuring a striking turn from Laetitia Dosch. Despite the singular nature of her protagonist, Serraille steers clear of quirky territory, nor is the film dourly realist in its depiction of her trials.

Dumped by her older photographer lover Joachim (played by Grégoire Monsaingeon), 31-year-old Paula (Dosch) undergoes a furious doorstep meltdown after which her mental health is probed. With long, flame-coloured locks, a brick red trench and one eye blue, one brown, she certainly stands out and we watch as she scrambles to patch her life together sans support structure, and with Joachim's cat in tow. Seemingly unstable and feckless, Paula is simply someone who has subjugated herself to her lover and his whims for a decade and is at sea alone.

Channelling the anarchic spirit of the French New Wave, Jeune Femme also feels defiantly modern in its outlook; as Paula wanders Paris deep in existential crisis Agnès Varda's masterpiece Cléo de 5 à 7 is evoked, although the precariousness of her financial situation makes this heroine as much of our time, as Cleo was quintessentially 60s.

Once the red mist of her break-up rage clears, we are able to see a woman with a surprising amount of grit but zero polish, who's open to friendships and what life has to offer but hasn't got her head around who she is yet. Scenes where Paula wrangles with her estranged mother and butts heads and bonds with a variety of strangers are both hilarious and touching, the actress's charisma shining off the screen even in the most ignominious of scenarios.

Deftly swerving sentimentality at every opportunity, Serraille makes an indelible first impression as she documents the haphazard reinvention of a uniquely appealing woman.

Selected release from Fri 18 May.

Jeune Femme

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • France / Belgium
  • 1h 37min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Léonor Serraille
  • Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Grégoire Monsaingeon
  • UK release: 18 May 2018

Paula (Dosch) is dumped by her older lover and has a doorstep meltdown that leads to her mental health being questioned, but in reality she’s been under his thumb for so long that she’s not used to being alone. Characterful comedy drama with a charismatic and appealing turn from Dosch even in the most ignominious scenarios.