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France/Estonia, 2012, minutes, Colour.
Jeanne Moreau, Laine Magi, Patrick Pineau.
Directed by Ilmar Raag.
A Lady in Paris, makes the original French title sound a touch more aristocratic than it really is. It is Une Estonienne a Paris, which means that it could refer to the central character, an Estonian woman who is a professional carer employed to look after an elderly widow. Or, as the English title implies, it refers to the widow.
The film is a French/Estonian co-production. The director is Estonian, Ilmar Raag. So is Anna, the carer. The first part of the film is set in that country.
The picture of Estonia is rather grim, and the opening sequence in winter, at night, a woman, Anna, trudging through the snow-covered streets, an alcoholic man calling out to her. It continues grim with his being her ex-husband and her elderly mother with dementia being afraid. However, Anna is loving towards her mother the, caring for her for two years. Then the mother dies. Anna grieves but she also caters for the wake. What is she now to do?
An offer comes to her to go to Paris to look after Frida. Frida is played by Jeanne Moreau, at age 83. In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva portrayed an ageing woman when she was 84. Elderly French actresses have commanding presence on screen. Jeanne Moreau has always had a commanding manner and she employs it here.
The film works as a portrait of Anna, presenting the initially as dowdy, but an adventurous incoming to Paris, withstanding the tantrums of Freda, looking at the dresses and perfumes in French shops, gradually transforming herself and gaining in self-confidence. The film works as a portrait of Freda, a refugee from Estonia long since, who has forgotten her native language, who has become more French than French, spoilt, wealthy will acting on whims, giving orders.
We guess, however, that there will eventually be a bond between the two women. It is interesting to watch the dynamics between the two, the mistress and the servant, the mellowing of the mistress, growing affection between the two women, their venturing out of the house, agreeing to host visitors...
However, there are still tensions, especially because of Frida's life and her antagonisms in the past, her relationships with men and the breaking up of marriages. There is still one man who is devoted to her, Stephanen, Patrick Pineau, once her lover but now the manager of a cafe which she financed, who visits her, employs staff to look after her, wanting to be freer from her dominance,
yet deeply devoted to her.
The film portrays a fairly enclosed world, the world of the house, the world of the café, with some visits into Paris, the Eiffel tower, the shops, and Anne wanting to find the Estonian community in Paris with the response that the older people are dying out and the younger are not interested.
Audiences will probably have different ideas on how plausible the resolution of the problem is and the nature of the ending. Suffice to say that the filmmakers have not opted for despair and disappointment.