Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Set Me Free

By Marjorie Baumgarten

MAY 8, 2000: 

D: Léa Pool; with Karine Vanasse, Nancy Huston, Miki Manojlovic, Pascale Bussières, Alexandre Mérineau, Charlotte Christeler. (Not Rated, 94 min.)

French-Canadian writer-director Léa Pool's Set Me Free (Emporte-Moi) is a coming-of-age film that stands apart from the average genre formulations that have become such popular storytelling formats in recent years. The story of 13-year-old Hanna (Vanesse) is set in 1963 Montreal and it told without cataclysmic life revelations or alterations, but rather with a quiet appreciation for life's contradictions and mysteries. Hanna lives with her unmarried parents ­ her Jewish father (Manojlovic) who is an unpublished poet with an unwillingness to work a day job, and her Catholic mother (Bussières) who supports the family by sewing in a sweatshop all day while typing her husband's manuscripts at night. She is beyond exhaustion, and hasn't the wherewithal to provide Hanna with the motherly attention the girl so clearly craves. Hanna's parents both love and hate each other, and this is one of the many complicated emotions Hanna comes to appreciate. Hanna also appreciates the cinema, and we find her adopting as a role model Anna Karina's doomed prostitute Nana from Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live). From Nana, she learns a certain existentialism and repeats the character's anthemic words: "I am responsible." There's more: her teacher's resemblance to Nana, the film's opening sequence in which Hanna experiences menarche, her emotional and physical relationship with her brother, and the girl with whom she holds hands. Set Me Free is a movie with a very tactile feel ­ from the film's metaphor-rich underwater moments to its incipient sexual feelings that are still muddled with the sensually platonic. The physical appearance of Vanasse helps bridge this difficult contradiction: She has the body of a young woman and the face of a child. The performances in Set Me Free are all gentle, lovely creations that are of a piece with the film's humanistic touch. Hanna wishes to be free of the overriding pull of her family, but like Nana she learns that with freedom comes responsibility ­ a challenging concept conveyed here most impressively onscreen.

3.5 Stars

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