My Name is Hmmm... (Je m'appelle hmmm...)
Artist Douglas Gordon stars in the first feature from French designer agnès b.
When anyone asks what she does for a living, Agnès Troublé calls herself 'a stylist', or to be more specific, 'a perfectionist'. Troublé is much better known to the world as agnès b.; a well-respected Parisian clothes designer (she can't stand the word 'fashion') but last year made her first film, which had its UK première at the Glasgow Film Festival 2014.
Troublé squirms about being called a filmmaker, stressing at a Q&A session in Glasgow that she's very much an amateur. But having been obsessed with film since her childhood – the first 'film' she watched was the view out her dad's car window on long road trips, and she went to the cinema twice a day while studying English in Brighton – she felt compelled to make one of her own.
Modesty aside, in My Name is Hmmm… Troublé marks herself as a talented new cinéaste, and has created an exquisitely styled, thoughtful and refreshingly executed arthouse road movie, on the eggshell subject matter of father/daughter incest.
Céline (played by first-time actor, 12-year-old Lou-Lélia Demerliac) is the eldest of three, and a reluctant carer to her brother and sister while her mum (Sylvie Testud) works late shifts in a bar. Her dad (Jacques Bonnaffé), unemployed, self-loathing and despondent, drinks beers in front of the telly, waiting on his moment to invite Céline upstairs for the nightly abuse she seems to accept as another domestic chore.
During a school trip to the beach, Céline wanders off, and finds herself a stowaway in an HGV driven by loner trucker, Peter (played with taciturn warmth by Douglas Gordon). A more conventional plotline would probably have him drive her straight to the police station, but Troublé avoids the obvious, opting instead for a grown-up, mutually respectful and playful friendship to develop between them.
Gordon, a long-time friend of Troublé's, was second choice for the trucker role after Terence Stamp had to pull out of filming. The burly, Turner Prize-winning enfant terrible of visual art may have been a casting surprise (both for the director and audience), but his scenes are some of the most touching.
Although the film has a beautifully loose quality about it, as if the director dropped it into water and let it meander rudderless across dreamlike plot and improvised dialogue for two hours, there's no denying the extreme care that's been taken over the details. While switching between Super 8, black and white and digital film, or adding text over shots seems tricksy and gimmicky in places, her willingness to experiment pays off for the most part – even when it means dropping Japanese Butoh dancers inexplicably into a forest scene – simply because she finds their movements so mesmerising.
Written, produced, art directed, set designed and scrupulously colour-blocked by Troublé, her process was nothing if not meticulous (she suspects she was probably doing her DOP's head in at points with her insistence on changing shot compositions). Frame after artful frame of shadows on walls, geometric tiles, tyre tracks in sand, clouds in puddles, rows of supermarket tills reflect Troublé's own background as a photographer, and her passion for photography and visual art (she's run the Galerie du jour in Paris since 1984, exhibiting Ryan McGinley, Harmony Korine and Donald Judd among others).
Although the director claims she wanted to 'do a Charles Laughton' – he only directed one film, superb 1955 thriller The Night of the Hunter – there are enough strengths here in her storytelling and aesthetic to leave audiences hoping she'll return to the director's chair.
Reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2014.