Ponette Review

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A four year old girl tries to come to terms with the death of her mother in a car crash. Left alone at boarding school the girl seeks solace where she can, eventually turning to God in the hope that her mother will make a miraculous return.


Twenty months after four-year-old Thivisol won the Best Actress award at Venice, Britain gets a chance to glimpse this curiously unmoving study of a toddler coming to terms with the death of her mother. Director Doillon clearly took great pains to nurse Thivisol through a potentially harrowing experience and any fears that she might have been psychologically scarred by the part are relieved by the revelation that little Victoire is something of a Method actress, who liked Doillon to yell at her to make her cry - so long as he didn't frighten her.

Thivisol is Ponette, who has survived the car crash that killed her mother (Trintignant). Ponette's papa (Beauvois), unable to cope with the shocked anger he feels towards his wife for her careless driving, places his daughter in a boarding school along with her cousins (Delphine Schiltz and Matiaz Bureau). Confused by the conflicting advice of playmates and grown-ups, Ponette becomes convinced that her mother will come back to life if she can only get God to listen to her. The fact that a four-year-old can carry a picture of this complexity is remarkable. There's something morbidly quaint about hearing tots discussing death and the afterlife, especially as they spout their muddled theories with such gravitas.

But while Thivisol does all that is asked of her, her intensity seems to come more from over-direction than the demands of her character. Having so carefully concocted a world of confusion and pain, Doillon resolves Ponette's dilemma in a disappointingly cosy manner that undermines the authenticity of much that has gone before. There are too many of these hollow rings for the film to convince, which is a pity as Thivisol's exceptional performance deserves better.

An exeptional performance from such a young actor, but the film nevertheless ends on something of a hollow note.