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  • TBC
  • Comedy, Drama
  • 2006
  • 90 mins

Les Petites Vacances

Les Petites Vacances

Synopsis

In Olivier Peyon's thriller, a loving grandmother takes a break from loneliness, mortality - and reality. Leading French New Wave figure Bernadette Lafont stars

About

In Olivier Peyon's feature debut Les Petites Vacances, a crisis sends a needy woman over the edge, endangering those into whose lives she has insinuated herself with such determination.

It is a plot that has been seen many times before. Play Misty For Me (1971) and its 'remake' Fatal Attraction (1987) established this sub-genre's typical pattern, wherein an initially complex, resourceful and sympathetic heroine is transformed by the final reel into a raving monster that must be violently eliminated for order to be restored.

This misogynistic narrative type would then be replayed ad nauseam in films like Single White Female, Poison Ivy, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, The Temp, Disclosure, Swimfan and The Crush. It did not have to be this way: Fatal Attraction originally ended with Glenn Close's Alex committing suicide rather than going ape, and with Michael Douglas' Dan being accused of her murder - until it became clear to the producers that early preview audiences were baying for Alex to be punished for her 'crime' of being a strong female character in a man's world. Apparently we viewers were only being given the misogyny that we ourselves demanded.

More recently, the sub-genre has undergone something of a feminist revamp. In The Page Turner (2006), the female antagonist is never seen to lose control, and emerges unscathed from the calculated destruction that she has engendered. And even though Danièle (Lafont), the heroine of Les Petites Vacances, is capable of having the odd 'bunny-boiler' moment (in one scene she continues ecstatically hammering a marmot with a broom long after it has actually died), she never has any intention of harming those to whom she is attached.

Danièle's relationship to her 'victims' is not as scorned mistress, unhinged roommate, over-ambitious secretary, murderous schoolfriend or sociopathic babysitter, but rather as kindly, doting grandmother. Her breakdown is all the more believable, and all the more devastating, because it is motivated in part by genuine, familial love and terrible loss.

Retired schoolteacher Danièle escorts her two beloved grandchildren, teenaged Marine (Csech) and the much younger Thomas (Franchi), on the train journey to visit their divorced father over the Easter vacation - but when he gets delayed at work, Danièle seizes the opportunity to spend a whole afternoon with the children. Learning that next time the children will be old enough to make the trip alone, Danièle decides to extend their little holiday together. They spend the night in an inn, the following day in the mountains, then move on to a palatial hotel on the lake, and then even further afield, with Danièle stopping at nothing (persuasion, bribery, emotional blackmail and outright deception) to keep the children happy in her company.

It might be a picture of familial bliss, were it not for the fact that Danièle also gradually cuts off all communications with Marine and Thomas' increasingly alarmed parents, becoming in effect her fellow-travellers' abductor. Basking in her grandchildren's youthful exuberance, Danièle strives to slough off all responsibility - but it is difficult to enjoy a second childhood with a granddaughter who wants only to enter adulthood. One way or another, Danièle's aberrant escapade must come to an end.

Les Petites Vacances is a portrait of a lonely woman's painful unravelling, and her last, hopeless stand against aging and death. In keeping with its generic affiliations, the film is full of suspense, as Danièle's increasing resort to lies, evasion and manipulation keeps the viewer guessing just how far she will go in her flight from reality.

At the same time, thanks to a sensitive script and Lafont's extraordinarily nuanced performance, Danièle retains our sympathies even when she is at her most reprehensible. The film may hint at possible horrors just round the bend, but the mood that predominates here is instead one of bleak sadness, as a grandmother realises there is no going back, and a granddaughter realises her adolescent rebellious streak is in fact inherited.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Jocelyne Desyerchère, Adèle Csech, Lucas Franchi, Mireille Roussel, Béatrice Chéramy, Bernadette Lafont, Claude Brasseur, Eric Savin, Claire Nadeau, Benjamin Rolland
  • Director: Olivier Peyon
  • Writer: Olivier Peyon, Gladys Marciano, Cyril Brody
  • Producer: Gérard Pont, Gérard Lacroix, Edgard Tenenbaum
  • Photographer: Alexis Kavyrchine
  • Composer: Jérôme Baur

In a nutshell

Peyon teases a well-worn thriller format into a subtle and moving drama about loss, regret and desperation. Rarely has the spirit of carpe diem seemed so tragically belated.

by Anton Bitel

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