Monday, August 16, 2010

Honore’s Making Plans for Lena

Léna is the sort of person who compulsively avoids making decisions and then resents being told what to do. She is also a mother—good luck kids. Indeed, the family drama is often quite messy in Christophe Honoré’s Making Plans for Léna (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

With the help of her father, Léna recently walked out on her English husband Nigel and her hospital job. Her family would like to know what she intends to do now, but she has no idea, responding only with anger when questioned. Inviting Nigel to join them during a family holiday in Breton does not help either. Though she is understandably put out by his presence, her parents seem to recognize he is a slightly more stable influence for their grandchildren than their eternally finding-herself mother.

Naturally, Léna makes the holiday miserable for everyone, fighting with Nigel, precipitously leaving, only to turn around and come straight back, just in time to run into her brother’s friend Simon (played with admirable restraint by Louis Garrel), whom she may or may not be romantically interested in. Surprisingly, she just cannot make up her mind which. Eventually, the grandparents leave on their Italian vacation and their ostensibly grown children return to Paris, but their dysfunctional behavior patterns remain unchanged.

It is certainly a testament to Chiara Mastroianni’s performance and Honoré’s uncomfortably intimate direction just how excruciating it can be spending time with Léna. In a way, Plans follows in the tradition of 1970’s films starring Jill Clayburgh, but it has a distinctly French sensibility. It also has the courage of its convictions, rather boldly concluding with a scene perfectly in keeping with Léna’s well established emotional issues, instead of imposing a pat feel-good ending of feminist empowerment.

Perhaps audience reactions to Plans will cleave along gender lines, but one would think most women would find Léna’s parenting highly problematic. Still, the relationship between her and her highly intuitive son Anton is convincingly developed. It is also provides a strange fantastical interlude, when he recounts the Breton legend of Kallet Gollet (Catherine the Damned), whose significance within the film is not immediately revealed, beyond what it might suggest of his state of mind.

As annoying as Léna’s petulant indecision might be, rather than passive-aggressive she is aggressively passive, her scenes with both Nigel and Simon have an honest intensity. The French-American Jean-Marc Barr is particularly nuanced as Nigel, believably exasperated yet still credibly attracted to his unstable ex. However, the comfortable but loveless marriage of her parents seems like a rather obvious (almost clichéd) counterpoint.

Even 109 minutes with Léna is trying, but credit Honoré and Mastroianni for not sugar-coating or soft-pedaling their depiction of maternal confusion. A film easier to respect than to love, Plans opens this Friday (8/20) in New York at the IFC Center.