Offered since 2010, MyFrenchFilmFestival showcases the breathtaking diversity and quality of contemporary French cinema. Omeleto is proud to partner with UniFrance to highlight short film selections from the collection, which range from charming children’s animations to gritty psychodramas to quietly resonant family narratives. No matter what the genre, this group of shorts highlights the creative risk-taking and emotional depth that makes French cinematic art uniquely vibrant.
Clara and Marie are both rivals in a local beauty pageant in Chazelles-sur-Lyon, their small town in France. Marie has taken the crown, while Clara is the first runner-up.
Clara’s friends, however, object to the final results, and they take their anger out on Marie’s family. Tensions rise between the factions, leading to fights and altercations. But the girls themselves are ambivalent about the growing conflict, though they may be powerless to stop as it progresses.
Written and directed by Thomas Vernay, this short drama unfolds with a visual style that initially possesses the looseness of a direct-observation documentary, with its handheld movements, long shots and jagged editing. But underneath this naturalism is an assured and precise set of directorial choices that parse out the social fabric and mores of this town. What emerges is an exploration of its social pressure upon young women, and how it hampers their full human authenticity.
Visually, the film is notable for a preponderance of close-ups, and the focus on Clara’s face highlights initially her beauty-queen “mask,” which is lovely but inexpressive. Fantastical, almost fairytale-like glimpses of the beauty pageant milieu offer up color, dazzle and joy for the eye, but the main object of the camera’s contemplation is Clara.
But as the close-ups on Clara persist, we wonder if this enigmatic poise is a defense mechanism, especially in reaction to the domineering loudness of Clara’s male friends who fight with Marie’s family. Amidst the noise, the young women at the heart of the conflict recede from the narrative’s center at times, as the story landscape widens to include more of the town.
The film language shifts, however, as the relationship between the two beauty pageant rivals is explored. To discuss it more explicitly may give away the “twist” of the film, but the twist isn’t one of plot, which gives the audience a jolt of shock or cleverness. Instead, a Moebius strip of assumptions held by the film’s characters (and perhaps by the audience) reveals an essential truth in a natural way.
Actors Megan Northam as Claire and Alice Mazodier as Marie dig underneath their beautifully lacquered surfaces, offering up complicated young women who both feel and think more deeply than are allowed by their roles and rules in this village. The careful watchfulness of Clara’s face then becomes fully understandable. We understand that it is less about an innate callousness, and more about a necessary tool of social survival in a small town where everyone knows everyone — and the ramifications of decisions play out with the ferocity and quickness of wildfire.
A favorite at the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival, “Miss Chazelles” is set to be adapted into a feature, which will give the story more room to explore how social traditions and mores constrain authentic human identity and growth, and to go even deeper into these ultimately rich and complex young female characters. These teen beauty queens may seem to be center stage as beacons of youth and gorgeousness, but being on top of the pedestal comes at the price of their freedom and liberation.