'New Orleans, Mon Amour' - Chiclit's Review

I am not sure 'New Orleans, Mon Amour' starring Christopher Eccleston and Elisabeth Moss is the most brilliant movie I have ever seen, but it is certainly interesting, thought provoking, and will stay with you even as the credits unexpectedly roll.

It is set a year after Katrina in the still-recovering city of New Orleans. Eccleston's character is a doctor, in the process of rebuilding his life and remarrying his ex wife, but who while attempting to volunteer runs into a former lover, played by Elisabeth Moss. She is in town to do relief work tearing down hurricane damaged homes and cleaning up.

The film's title is an homage to a highly regarded post-war French New Wave film 'Hiroshima, Mon Amour' which makes use of the technique of combining flashback-driven drama with documentary style interviews of unidentified survivors. Initially in the trailer and in early festival reviews of this indie film Eccleston's character was apparently named Dr Jekyll and Moss's character was Hyde. That affectation has been dropped in the version available on iTunes and the character is referred to as Henry or Doctor Henry. I don't know if the original intent of that was just whimsy or if it was meant to represent the fact that each of the main characters had two sides - the one they showed to others - and the one they had while in the relationship, but there is significant duality on display - indeed that may be the major theme of the film: old/young, recovering from Katrina/not recovered, and the rich/poor.

We are not privy to their whole back story, but the history of the characters' relationship is obviously dramatic, damage has been inflicted on both sides. The Moss character took piano lessons from Henry's wife, and was apparently so young when the affair started, that the couple used to pass themselves off as father and daughter. Hyde wrote a farewell letter that left Henry and his marriage broken, she accuses him of leaving her for dead, and reveals to another volunteer that she did time in a psychiatric hospital. When we meet them, it would seem both Henry and Hyde have moved on. When they are reunited they lose control - they are drawn to each other with lustful obsession.

This is not a Katrina film per se, but the backdrop of the damage and loss the city has suffered is never far from the surface. Henry was stranded with patients during the storm in difficult conditions but survived. As depicted in the film, people in New Orleans were profoundly affected by the events of Katrina. One year later, however, many were experiencing a life back to normal, living in undamaged areas, while for others it was as if the storm happened yesterday and their neighborhoods look like war zones. Henry and Hyde tried to pretend on the surface they were normal and recovering, and like parts of the city they both love, below the surface things are not back to normal with either of them.

I think the original script might have been longer and more complex than the barely 77 minute version I saw, but I enjoyed the directing, interesting use of damaged homes to frame certain shots, lighting and the use of color, both vivid and washed out - Alex and I were reminded of Alex Cox.

The acting performances are subtle - nuanced and naturalistic, in keeping with semi-documentary feel of the movie - things move on Lousiana time, languidly. Indeed the movie ends languidly. The characters are self medicating with copious amounts of alcohol and pills and thus it's a more laid back performance than one normally sees from Eccleston, and I enjoyed seeing him do something that is a bit different, ambitious. He and Moss have good chemistry in the film and their styles work well together. It's definitely worth seeing.

A couple of notes, my copy of the film from iTunes played a little rough, but I do have a computer with Vista.

Shortly before seeing this film I read a book called "Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around" the account of a young reporter and her musician boyfriend who rehabbed their home in New Orleans after Katrina and by their own admission went back too early - like a lot of people. Gives nice context to the film as it describes the odd juxtaposition of people and issues co existing in the months and year after the storm.



Ruth said...

Hi, Ruth from the CE f/book page here - thought you might like to know if anyone has Netflix, New Orleans Mon Amour is now available on there to watch on 'instant'. Just saw it myself - yes, different for Chris but definitely worth watching, he and Elisabeth Moss were a good pairing for these parts.

joanr16 said...

Ruth, thanks for the tip. I subscribe to Netflix, but unfortunately my home computer's download speed is too slow for "Instant" viewing. I bet the film will come out on DVD eventually. Until then, it will sit in my "Saved" queue.

Very interesting review. I have strongly mixed feelings about Elisabeth Moss; she can be brilliant playing unbalanced characters, but otherwise she projects a childlike quality that, to me, seems creepy in an adult woman. It sounds like she's appropriately cast here, though. I still very much want to see the film... especially after reading your review!

Kristen said...

I appreciate the in-depth review. This has been THE unfindable flick since it debuted. I don't particularly trust the Netflix reviews, because of volume vs. taste. I'm glad to hear my impressions of the cinematography from the trailer seem to be carried through the film. If anyone's looking for the DVD, Amazon.com has it, $19.99. I'm very much looking forward to watching this. It's interesting how most of the post-k films/tv coming out of New Orleans, seem to be having difficulty finding a niche. I do wonder if it is a sort of willful blindness, rather than commentary on the quality of the work.