Gemma Arterton (Gemma Bovery), Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color) and Sergi López (Pan’s Labyrinth) star in the new film from French director Arnaud des Pallières, a narratively fractured portrait of a young woman who is portrayed by a succession of different actors through the course of the film.
Arnaud des Pallières
Arnaud des Pallières' unique talent, evident in his wildly different first two feature films, shifts yet again for this ambitious, fractured narrative about a woman at various stages of her life. Moving through different time periods, his approach forces us to assemble the story like a puzzle as we watch.
The director's aim with Orpheline is to create not one woman but multiple characters who, although they combine to form the same person, assume different guises over the course of the film. Supporting this concept are the numerous names that the central character goes by, shedding and adopting new identities along the way, with different actors playing the central role.
Disorientation is the result, a confusion felt by the heroine herself as she navigates these various phases. When we first see her she is Renée, a teacher at a small, provincial school, trying with her boyfriend to get pregnant. But when a bold, self-confident woman, recently released from prison, strides into her life, we are let in on a past that des Pallières carefully reconstructs for us. The trip is a troubling and unexpected one involving childhood trauma, teenage rebellion, and a misstep that will cast a shadow over her life.
Orpheline is a tour de force of narrative pleasures. Equally engrossing are the actors des Pallières has cast, among them Adèle Haenel, Gemma Arterton, Adèle Exarchopoulos, and Sergi López (who starred in the director's 2008 feature, Parc), all of whom bring a sense of mystery and delight to this artfully crafted ensemble piece. But, above all, it is a portrait of a woman, orphaned in her mind but not in reality; an emotionally brave work from a filmmaker unafraid to make bold creative choices.