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The mesmerising existential crisis of “Suzanne”

Have you ever imagined just how powerful your name is? Both with and without it you are everything and nothing. It can mask and reveal as much about your parents as it can about your own soul. Changed by friends, marriage or deed poll you have a symbiotic relationship with the letters that form the DNA of your existence. Only a parent truly relinquishes their given name, most do willingly, some do reluctantly but when a child no longer recognises you as mum or dad, when they revert to using the name of your own childhood, then you are submerged deep inside your own existential crisis.

Suzanne is in turmoil. Surrounded by people in a bar including her young son Charlie and her sister Maria, Suzanne is desperately alone. Her Disney eyes weep Bambi tears; they regret her beautiful, perfect boy even though her hands willingly caress his black hair. Previously Suzanne told her father she would keep her child, “because I feel like it” goes her teenage reason and logic. His response is swift and open-palmed, guilt immediately imprinted onto his face. He is a widower, a doting father who feels his own loss like never before when presented with Suzanne’s news.

Irresponsible is Suzanne’s watchword. Every car journey with Charlie feels like it could be their last. She turns up unannounced with her toddler at Maria’s cramped apartment, taking unpaid leave from her job. Suzanne floats on a whim, a magnificent romance with her small time hood Julien is all consuming. Those selfish teenage emotions once stifled by motherhood clamber back to the surface. Suzanne cannot bear to leave her lover after a precious date, running back time and time again to kiss and caress him. Charlie is never afforded his mother’s affections, but Suzanne does run away from him time and time again.

When Suzanne makes an impetuous decision that lands her in prison, everyone in her sphere of influence is affected. Devastating to watch is her father’s shame when listening to Suzanne’s rap sheet being read out in court juxtaposed with his inability to protect her. When Suzanne finally realises the impact of her actions on Charlie her breakdown is powerfully revealed by a simple shot through a prison window. After her release five years later she meets her father in a service station, the perfect metaphor for their transitory relationship. Charlie reverts to using her childhood name.

Simply put, Katell Quillevere’s “Suzanne” is mesmerising filmmaking. The frequent forward bounds in the narrative reveal just how quickly life can escape you whether you have been selfish or not. It reminds you how great acting actually seems effortless, Sara Forestier as Suzanne, Francois Damiens as her remarkable father Nicolas, Adele Haenel as her reliable sister Maria and Paul Hamy as her unshakeable lover Julien. It also reminds you that life mostly happens off screen, out of your sight and is not your exclusive property.