Writers: Rebecca Zlotowski and Gaëlle Macé
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
While terrestrial TV plays the same 30 films on rotation, there is much to enjoy in the online MyFrenchFilmFestival which this year showcases films that have caused a stir in Cannes in recent years. Some are well known, but others like Rebecca Zlotowski’s coming-of-age drama hardly made it to the UK. Zlotowski’s 2010 story about a 16-year-old girl joining a biker gang is thoughtful, although it feels too much like a morality tale to be completely satisfactory.
Prudence’s mother has died, and her father has flown to Canada on business. Her older sister is meant to be looking after her but she is staying away from the family house as the memories cause too much pain. With no-one around, Prudence has taken up shoplifting and it’s when she’s hauled to the police station that she meets Maryline, a more experienced shoplifter it seems.
Maryline promises to take her to the biker gang that Prudence has heard about on the radio. Meeting up at Rungis the bikers cause havoc with their races and their wheelies, and the broadcaster talks about the many casualties that have occurred. The film appears to be set in the 80s or 90s, but this biker subculture has echoes of Britain’s Rockers from the late 50s and early 60s. The Rockers also caused a moral and media panic, and so many boys came off their bikes that the newspapers dubbed the bikers The Suicide Club. In Dear Prudence, the media, too, make much of the deaths, but this doesn’t dissuade Prudence and Maryline from heading to Rungis.
It’s not the allure of death that seems to have enticed Prudence, but the allure of sex. For all her confidence and knowingness, she’s very inexperienced and knows little of sex, and even less of love. When she meets Franck, she thinks that this might be the time to lose her virginity. Sex might help her grieve, perhaps.
While the story speeds to its inevitable end, other plot strands are more opaque like the Jewish family she sometimes dines with. Although Jewish herself, Prudence is unaware of the meaning of the rituals the family carry out on sacred days. The father bullies his son at the dinner table, but this storyline disappears when Prudence becomes a member of the gang. The film seems heavily edited, too, and while this is a directorial choice, time moves too quickly, and within minutes of meeting the bikers she is opening up her house to them.
Léa Seydoux in the lead role is a mixture of vulnerability and selfishness, and the camera hardly moves from her face. With no parents around, Prudence needs to grow up fast, and Seydoux shows this hunger for experience in her lips, scowling in an effort to be impermeable. Only once do we see her happy, flowing with words, and this scene comes, tellingly, when she is pretending to be her mother on the phone. Of course, after this Seydoux has also appeared in Blue is the Warmest Colour, and is about to hit our screens again in the Bond film, No Time to Die.
It’s Seydoux that makes this 80-minute film worth watching; the story itself is too obvious and familiar, and even has echoes of British kitchen sink dramas in its portrayals of teenagers hell-bent on growing up. But in comparison to A Taste of Honey or The Leather Boys, Zlotowski’s film is curiously empty.
The MyFrenchFilmFestival runs until 17 July 2021