[Originally published in Movietone News 47, January 1976]
by Ken Eisler
Isabelle drives unhurriedly through the morning streets of Montreal in her little red Volkswagen. Along the way we glimpse women looking out of windows, kids playing—vivid ephemeral street scenes. This engrossing flow of images is interrupted only once: to accommodate an insert of some people punching in at a time clock. Now Isabelle arrives at her place of work and punches in too … a bit late. She’s in a place where people make movies. Another flowing sequence shows employees at work here: a woman bent over a table, laboriously crayonning in the empty space of an animation cell; a paunchy English-speaking executive being petulant and overbearing with a director. Isabelle heads straight for the ladies’ john. With a friendly quick smile, she joins another woman in front of the big mirror and they stand side by side busying themselves with their appearance. The woman’s face appears set, deadpan, studiedly oblivious. Oh, Christ, you think. Alienation City. But it’s the other woman, surprisingly, who at long last breaks the silence, with a “hen-talk” ·remark that is addressed, however, not directly to Isabelle but at her image in the mirror, and that also bears more than a trace of hostility. “You don’t need that paint,” she rasps. Isabelle replies in feminine kind, but without the hostility. “I love your necklace,” she exclaims, leaning over; and at this a broad smile breaks through the other woman’s mask. “I made it myself,” she says proudly, turning directly to Isabelle. The two exit together, talking, and walk down the corridor.
The friendship of Isabelle and Virginie (she was the animation artist we watched at her boring work) matures rapidly after that anomie meeting, into a cell formed of two highly differentiated yet lovingly interdependent personalities. Dansereau’s lively, funny movie continues giving rich glimpses, meanwhile, of the pervasive culture in the inimical midst of which this tiny cell is born, struggles, and eventually may—despite heavy odds—thrive. What the two women are up against primarily, of course, is the world they never made, the world of men: joylessness, narcissism, power- and ego-tripping, hype. An exchange between them dramatizes the last indignity, their own insidious acceptance of these “patriarchal” values. Virginie, in her studio, shows Isabelle slides of her collages, and Isabelle recalls her own ambition to be a writer, but immediately downgrades her writing as inferior and trivial, not good enough to make it. Virginie’s suggestion that the process of making art might be self-justifying takes her completely by surprise.
As we are drawn increasingly into the daily lives of these two attractive, high-energy women, the business of coping with maleness, in all its forms, begins to seem one awfully big pain in the ass. Sometimes it’s a laughable drag, like the old guy who tries to cop a quick feel as “the girls” come out of a store, or Virginie’s childishly domineering vegetarian brother. Other times, the laughter looks like the only alternative to homicide, as when Isabelle is fired by the paunchy, patronizing executive, or when a car full of adolescents pulls abreast of her VW and the two women are subjected to a species of American courting behavior that begins with jocular invitations to talk and escalates almost instantaneously, in the face of rejection, to foulmouthed abuse and obscenities transparently expressing the desire to insult, injure and humiliate. At all times, the necessity to cope drains off valuable energy and good spirits, and it’s no wonder there are so many scenes—some of them a bit slack—of the two women Getting Away From It All by themselves, or fantasizing Getting Away From It All.
Fantasy, of course, as the title indicates, plays a vital role in La Vie revée. Amidst oppressive norms, fantasy may provide images of subversion (Virginie’s assemblages, Isabelle’s flashback of a little girl very slowly and deliberately, à la Maria Schneider, pulling her laundered white gown up above her pubes) or an outlet for rage (Virginie’s startling, Godardian demonic face-painting, a sequel to her recital of a nightmare involving a “slimy dragon”). When La Vie revée coalesces into a kind of plot, fairly late in the game, it concerns the women’s dawning realization that their fantasies have also conspired in their enslavement. On Virginie’s sage advice, Isabelle finally takes a decisive step to deliver forcibly into the real world her obsessive fantasy regarding a glamorous co-worker, a tinted-glasses–wearing, curly-haired married man. Overnight, in Virginie’s studio, the fantasy crashes to earth. Exit Tinted Glasses, glumly, leadenly, pride wounded, but roleplaying “dignity” (he thinks) intact. Isabelle goes over to a double-truck full-color ad pasted on the studio wall. It’s a joy-of-life beach scene featuring a handsome, sun-goggled man who resembles her former daydream hero. With a sweeping, free gesture, she grasps one edge and rips the photograph off. Laughing, she then circles the walls, tearing wide swatches out of other media fantasy images, and within those horizontal interruptions of North American four-color felicity, the credits for La Vie revée come up.
LA VIE REVÉE (Dream Life)
Direction: Mireillie Dansereau. Screenplay: Dansereau, Patrick Auzepy. Cinematography: François Gill. Editing: Danielle Gagne. Music: Emmanuel Charpentier. Production: Guy Bergeron.
The players: Liliane Lemaître-Auger, Véronique LeFlaguais, Jean-François Guité.
Copyright © 1976 Ken Eisler