Reinventing Marvin (2017) ***

September 10th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Anne Fontaine; Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Jules Porier, Gregory Gadebois, Catherine Mouchet, Charles Berling, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Salée, Isabelle Huppert; France 2017, 115 min.

Director/co-writer Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) is one of the most diverse French directors, and Reinventing Marvin is again a step into new territory – this time an LGTB theme carried by a brilliant cast. Sometimes uneven, over-didactic and certainly too long, Reinventing Marvin is still a film to remember.

Fontaine switches for most of the narrative continuously between the youth of hero Marvin Bijou (Marvin Jewel in English) in a village in Northern France, and the more adult young man who makes a career on the Parisian stage having changed his name to Martin Clement. Young Marvin (Porier) has the most miserable of childhoods: his parents are at best neglectful, and at worse abusive: father Dany (Gadebois) calls him a faggot blaming the mother (Salée) for the boy’s effeminate behaviour. And his is older brother, an out-and out homophobic, is most aggressive towards Marvin. At school Marvin is mercilessly bullied and sexually abused. Coming to his aid is the principal, Madeleine Clement (Mouchet), who helps him discover his acting talents. After drama school the older Marvin (Oldfield) goes to Paris where, after his coming out, he meets theatre director Abel (Macaigne), who becomes sort of a surrogate father for him. Soon Marvin adds a sugar daddy to his collection of father-substitutes – the wealthy Roland (Berling) who introduces him to Isabelle Huppert, who partners him on stage, performing his play based on the rants of his real father, who provides for an eye-opening encounter in the denouement.

Based (but not credited) on the autobiography En finir avec Eddy Belleguele by the writer Edouard Louis, who also changed his name after an oppressive childhood, Reinventing Marvin is a rich tapestry of passion and fraught emotions. Avoiding melodrama, Fontaine steers her project with the right detachment, but falls into the trap of repeating and sermonising. DoP Yves Angelo uses a richly-hued palette for the countryside but his Paris images are foremost a melancholy brown. Both Porier and Oldfield are brilliant and Gadebois shines in all his scenes, showing just enough vulnerability behind his bully-mask. Somehow the introduction of Huppert rings slightly false – just one fairy tale too much. Even still, Reinventing Marvin is a heartfelt and convincing life story of change and rehabilitation. AS



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