“Scarlet”- A fable [MOVIE REVIEW]

Juliette Jouan as Juliette in "Scarlet." Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Scarlet” is a poetic fairy tale, often floating like the red sails the heroine longs for. Directed by Pietro Marcello (“Martin Eden”) and co-written with Maurizio Braucci, Maud Ameline and Geneviève Brisac, it is loosely based on Aleksandr Grin’s novel “Scarlet Sails.”  Watching this film is like reading a lovely, lyrical elegy with a beginning as enigmatic as its ending.

Raphaël Thiéry as Raphaël with baby Juliette. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Raphaël has returned from the trenches of the first world war, grizzled, battle scarred and weary. He arrives in his village only to discover that his beloved wife Marie has died, leaving behind a baby girl, Juliette, in the care of Madame Adeline. Sympathetic to his plight, she allows him to stay with his daughter, asking only that he help out in exchange for their board. Totally lost, unaware of the circumstances of his wife’s untimely death, she helps him maneuver the obstacles in front of him. He is a talented woodworker and she finds him work. As we watch his adjustment, his struggle to survive and his love for Juliette, she grows into a loving and lovely young lady. 

The story is rife with secrets, villains, witches and superstitions. Marcello has a fine feel for the pettiness of the peasants and townspeople in this Normandy village who ridicule the sad, misshapen giant who stays primarily in the shadows. Finding out the circumstances of his beloved wife’s death, he exacts revenge on the villain responsible for her pain only to have the village side with one of their own and cast Raphaël farther to the margins. He loses his job and must find other means to support him and his musically talented daughter. 

Raphaël Thiéry (Raphaël) and Juliette Jouan (Juliette). Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Juliette is a dreamer, holding on to the fanciful stories the local sorceress tells her of how she will be swept away by scarlet sails. It is a story that Juliette clings to and one that reduces her to the ridicule of others. Her beauty is more a curse than a blessing because the local boys, villains all, are an ominous threat to her, just as their fathers were to her mother. But Juliette is not faint of heart nor does she suffer fools. She will have none of them, no matter what the cost. She is waiting to be swept away; she is waiting for those scarlet sails. Until then, she will not leave her adored father’s side. He is a man of enormous compassion and creative talent even if it is evident only to Juliette and Adeline. 

Yolande Moreau (Sorceress). Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

There are no great dramatic moments. “Scarlet” truly is a fairy tale told from beginning to end, no twists, no turns, no surprises. Carefully and lovingly following the growth of Juliette, physically and intellectually, over a period of twenty years, she makes her way into your soul the way she has with those who care for her. This is a story without a wicked witch, Juliette’s witch is benign and on her side, and without a moral at the end. It is merely the story of a wounded man whose enormous love for the only remaining piece of his dead wife is all encompassing. As limited as his options are, there is nothing he won’t do for his daughter. 

Marcello assembled an extraordinary cast led by Raphaël Thiéry (Raphaël) as the damaged war veteran. His hulking body, bruised face, bulging eyes and gnarled stubby fingers resemble the friendly giants of folklore who scare the townspeople but are loved by those who know them best. His appearance is his character, exuding compassion and communicating soundlessly with the depth of his eyes. Noémie Lvovsky is Adeline, a perfect role model for Juliette with her solitary life well-lived. 

Juliette Jouan (Juliette) and Louis Garrel (Jean). Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Prince Charming, Jean, in the guise of a pilot, is played by the handsome Louis Garrel who can be dangerous, frivolous and intriguing all at once. As the sorceress, Yolande Moreau is both convincing in her predictions while giving off the air of a charlatan. With her full face, skewed mouth and laughing eyes, it is easy to see why she has a career full of marvelous characters, not the least of which was her starring role in “Seraphine,” the maid with hidden artistic talents. 

But it is Juliette Jouan as Juliette who carries the film. Beautiful, independent, talented, she embodies anyone who has ever held on to a dream no matter how fanciful. It is easy to understand why all the young men desire her physically and are unable to grasp her intellectual superiority. 

Cinematographer Marco Graziaplena captures the countryside in all its contradictions, beautiful, dangerous, lush and barren.

Fancifully told and beautifully filmed, it is 100 minutes of peace, tranquility and poetry. The bad guys lose and the good ones prevail, even if they don’t exactly win.

In French with English subtitles.

Opening June 23 at the Landmark Nuart.


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