Agnes Jaoui in Sophie Fillières’ Swan Song

By Taaza Facts

Published on:

French writer-director Sophie Fillières, who tragically died last year from cancer at the age of 58, was no stranger to depicting manic situations on screen.

Her genre of choice was comedy, and in films like Gentille (2005), Pardon My French (2009) and When Margaux Meets Margaux (2018), she used the prism of humor to portray women going through major personal crises, whether involving their turbulent love lives or the excorcism of their own inner demons. Fillières’ chatty, messy, offbeat movies played like darker Parisian takes on the films of Woody Allen, and they would inspire a generation of younger female auteurs like Justine Triet, whose Oscar-winning Anatomy of a Fall Fillières played a small role in.

This Life of Mine

The Bottom Line

Brutally honest and occasionally hilarious.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Cast: Agnès Jaoui, Angelina Woreth, Édouard Suplice
Director, screenwriter: Sophie Fillières

1 hour 39 minutes

A major personal crisis is what guides the director’s final feature, This Life of Mine (Ma Vie Ma Gueule), which stars Agnès Jaoui as a writer combatting her mental illness with plenty of wit and a fair amount of gravitas. Jaoui’s character, who’s been given the absurd name of Barberie Bichette (a sort of pun in French), seems to be a surrogate for the filmmaker herself. She’s clever and creative but also unstable, and the movie painstakingly chronicles her psychological breakdown, hospitalization and possible recovery in a highly realistic manner, while landing a few decent jokes in the process.

“I’m 55 and I still don’t know what my nature is,” Barberie explains to her shrink early on, in a film that becomes both a journey of self-discovery and a descent into the quotidian hell of chronic depression. Jaoui, whose spot-on performance seems to have been modeled on the late director herself, garners our affection from the opening scene, in which she tries to start writing her new novel (entitled My Life My Ugly Face, which is also the film’s French title) and can’t even settle on which font to use.

Fillières peppers the narrative with such telling gags as we watch Barberie gradually spiral into an abyss. She crosses paths at one point with her snarky teenage daughter (Angélina Woreth), in a hilariously cruel scene set in the Luxembourg Gardens, and hangs out with her helpful son (Édouard Suplice) and nonchalant sister (Valérie Donzelli). But as a single woman of a certain age, Barberie mostly spends time alone.

She seems to be stuck in a deep fog of madness and loneliness, and This Life of Mine seems to be asking us if there’s any real difference, at times, between the two. Barberie does eventually have a real breakdown when she runs into a man (Laurent Capelluto) who may or may not be an old flame, prompting a long stay in a psychiatric institution where she struggles with the staff and tries to reconnect with her kids.

By far the film’s most touching sequence occurs when the family of three finally reunites at the clinic, revealing that for all of Barberie’s eccentricities — and she has plenty of them — she’s also a loving mother who can have her heart broken like the rest of us. Fillières depicts her mental illness with both compassion and complexity, showing how Barberie keeps striving and failing to live like a “normal” person. She also keeps questioning, in her thoughts, notes and writings, if normal even exists.  

After she gets released, Barberie takes off for England to reconnect with her roots — she used to spend summers there as a child — and perhaps to start life anew, hopping from a picturesque seaside town to the rain-soaked northern highlands. The third act wavers too much to really work, and overall, This Life of Mine feels more like an intimate and very personal brand of auto-fiction that a fully developed story, which means it will mostly appeal to the director’s small but dedicated French fanbase.

The movie is also something of a French arthouse cinema who’s-who, with cameos by actor-director Donzelli, actor Emmanuel Salinger (who starred in Arnaud Desplechin’s early features) and singer-auteur-film star Philippe Katerine. They all show up in what would sadly become Fillières’ swan song, accompanying Jaoui in a sharp and moving performance that never shies away from the madness her character faces. Despite how dark things get, This Life of Mine does manage to leave the viewer with a sense of hope — not necessarily that mental illness can be fully cured or even escaped, but that portraying it with this level of honesty and hilarity is already a kind of victory.  

Taaza Facts

I am a multifaceted content creator with expertise in blogging, Finance, and Cryptocurrency reviews. My creative journey involves weaving captivating stories in blogs, designing aesthetically pleasing and functional websites, and dissecting the nuances of cinema. We are dedicated to sharing our passion and insights with a global audience.

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