Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Stella (2008)

Sylvie Verheyde's film Stella is a remarkable achievement: with hardly a plot, rather a psychological portrait, intimately drawn, of a young girl, the film is at the same time a much deeper glimpse into French society than many films are successful at: though, in general, French films do a better job at drawing everyday life than films of many other countries (Iran excepted, which also does a great job).

Stella is a courageous girl at times, at times not: like any human being. She admires beauty and aspires for it; she hates herself at times, for she finds herself ordinary, coming from ordinary surroundings. But she loves the things she learns in these ordinary surroundings; she loves rough, sexy men frequenting the bar her parents run, learning poker, the carefree atmosphere. But it is this she loves, and the elitist society she belongs to doesn't want this from her: rather than any kind of practical knowledge or recognising that there exist many kinds of knowledge, this society talks to her of literature and history and spellings. Stella's life begins to offer a glimpse into the schizophrenia that afflicts French society: her home is different from the civilised school. Her only Paris friend, Gladys, a kind soul, is also an outsider: not charming enough for boys, with a name that makes others laugh. But even Gladys' home is more traditional, with leftist-leaning discussions dominating smoky tables, and Gladys gets good grades; not that Gladys cares, but Stella does, who only gets teachers' rude reprimands forever. But Stella changes; life at home changes, as her mother and father draw away from each other, her countryside friend is more interested in boys now than spending time with her, a known customer lures her to abuse her (and maybe succeeds?), and Stella is asked for a dance by a most handsome boy ... for whom Stella even starts getting good grades, for she doesn't want to be left behind in the old class now. But life does not change all: Gladys continues to be her dear friend ... life does not change all, but it changes dramatically for Stella. And thus, she will learn life in the schizophrenic world of France, where appearances and reality can mean two different, often diametrically opposite, things.

A beautiful critique of modern French society in many ways, especially of its elitism and the way children are treated in French schools, Stella offers a glimpse into a girl's, or any human's, mind. Stella is a perfectionist in her love for perfection: hence, she will even attack someone when not coming to scratch. But the world she lives in is far from perfect and will often disappoint her. She needs her dreams to cling on to, for those dreams, and Gladys' love, are what let her preserve her sanity; the rest is cleaved between outside and inside, between now and then.