Cinema Signal:

The Plays of Anton Chekhov
The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters

. "La Petite Lili"

Putting aside that this is a modernized adaptation of Chekhov's 1895 play, "The Seagull" and taking it only for what it is as a movie, Julien Boivent's screenplay creates a talky portrait of a filmmaking family as a vehicle for romantic intrigue, sexual conquest, indulgent infighting and competitive jealousy. One watches from a distance as the play on emotions flicker onscreen, but with not much involvement.

The first image director Claude Miller treats us to is that of Lili (Ludivine Seignier) stripping off her clothes and getting laid in a tranquil outdoor setting. Her lover is the handsome, brooding Julien Marceaux (Robinson Stevenin) whose parents own the forested estate they're on. Post-coitus, he prepares for a full family screening of his first cinematic masterpiece, a pretentious piece of spiritual idealism starring Lili, at this time a wannabe actress as well as the director's lover.

The family screening doesn't go so well. Mado (Nicole Garcia), Julien's middle-aged actress mother fidgets and seems bored. Julien stops the movie, willfully interpreting Mado's unease as rejection. Brice (Bernard Giraudeau), Mado's live-in lover steps into the breech to defend the film, giving Julien the opportunity to express his pent up jealousy and contempt for Brice's commercially successful work as a director.

After putting down all his defenders' efforts to console and praise him, which Julien puts down as ignorant and inadequate pandering, the sensitive artist storms off to lose himself in the woods and consult his muse. Grandpop and 70-year family comedian Simon (Jean-Pierre Marielle) is concerned, but not as much as Jeanne-Marie (Julie Depardieu), a house guest with a not too well hidden torch for Julien and full-fledged empathy for his feelings.

By the time Julien returns at mealtime, he has put everything into an order his intense nature and perceived slight is able to live with. But, insofar as his role is central, the drama revolves around his identity crisis with Lili providing the romantic-sexual tensions. As this is presumably director Claude Miller's alter ego role reprising his first steps in a filmmaking career when ideals and passions are raw and undefined, it mines the passions and attitudes of the ensemble in residence for some drama and prurient interest (and maybe a little payback). The 5-year jump in time for a last act resolution shows Julien directing an actual film.

Primarily to fulfill the need for some lust outside the framework of the main story, the handyman's wife is involved with the family doctor (Yves Jacques) who provides dialogue about things beyond the country mansion's walls.

There is no mystery about why the title refers to Lili. Seignier's erotic presence is like the elephant in the room, unignorable -- for her fellow characters as well as the audiences she will entice. It may be his story, but all eyes are on her, with her open spirit and awareness of her own sensuality. She plays it for all it's worth... which is undisguised and considerable, and provides the glue for a tale that could easily come apart. This appearance should springboard Seignier's emotive potential beyond her supporting role in the first feature that brought her to the attention of American audiences, "Swimming Pool."

Stevenin, who looks more like a Russian (distinctly in the mold of Rudolf Nureyev) than a Frenchman is a fine choice for the too-sensitive, naively reflective artiste and an adequately ardent companion to his nubile co-star.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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