28th Sep2015

LFF 2015: ’21 Nights With Pattie’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Isabelle Carré, Andre Dussollier, Denis Lavant, Sergi López, Mathilde Monnier, Laurent Poitrenaux, Philippe Rebbot, Karin Viard | Written and Directed by Arnaud Larrieu & Jean-Marie Larrieu

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Shortly after her estranged mother’s death, middle-aged Caroline travels to her palatial house in the country to settle affairs and bury her. She intends to stop for a night, attend the ceremony and head back to Paris the next day but her mother’s fun-loving friend Pattie, the local scoundrels, and a mysterious older man named Jean have other ideas – and that’s even before the body goes missing…

21 Nights with Pattie is all over the place tonally, dealing as it does in necrophilia, romantic frustration, parenthood, sexual liberation and ghosts dancing on tables, but it’s a more enjoyable ride than you might expect. Caroline is the nominal protagonist, trying to discover who (if anyone) took her mother’s body while getting to know the locals who live in the three nearby villages in the process of having a three-night party, but she’s an audience surrogate for the most part, there to listen to the other characters reveal themselves and their relationships to her mum.

The titular Pattie delves deep into her well of sexual escapades to share with Caroline – mostly with disappointing or otherwise untenable local men (including Denis Lavant in hyperactive wolf mode) – while latecomer Jean, who may or may not be a famous author and Caroline’s father, expresses at length his disgust at the notion that a necrophile may have desecrated his “old friend’s” body. Caroline sits back and lets this wash over her for the most part, getting a feel for the life of a woman we learn she hardly knew and resents for it. Her passivity is intended to be noticed; throughout the stories we’re given reaction shots of Caroline trying to figure out why people are so open to her when she is so closed.

There’s a bohemian vibe to proceedings, with characters drifting in and out of Caroline’s temporary home, relationships sparking (and in some cases sputtering) in mere moments. Writer-directors the Larrieus don’t offer any particularly striking images other than the gorgeous French countryside, but they’re more interested in the insular soap opera they’re creating – one whose relationships are founded on both the absence and presence of a loved one.

It’s hard to get a handle on the direction of 21 Nights with Pattie, but that feels intentional. Caroline never shows her grief in a conventional way, so her feelings are processed through filters of different flavours: a nighttime dance with Lavant, who would really like a quickie but will settle for a quick-step; a hallucinatory dance sequence seemingly only performed for the audience; a moonlit revelation overheard in a graveyard that should shock but seems only to resolve. Characters respond to strange occurrences with laid-back acceptance, as though this were the way the world was always meant to be and some of that rubs off onto Caroline, who finds a kind of refreshment through her frustrations with her new acquaintances.

The journey isn’t entirely convincing and the themes thinly drawn, but 21 Nights with Pattie offers some diverting comedy and a monologue about the allure of dead bodies that festival-goers won’t soon forget…

21 Nights with Pattie is showing at the BFI London Film Festival, which runs from 8-17 October. Click here for tickets and more information.

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