"C'est La Vie" is the latest from Diane Kurys, the writer-director whose autobiographical "Peppermint Soda" and "Cocktail Molotov" focused on budding adolescence and whose most famous film, "Entre Nous," was based on her mother's experiences in a lifelong friendship.
With "C'est La Vie" she returns to reminiscing about her childhood, specifically the summer her parents separated before divorcing.The film itself, however, is darker in tone than her other pictures and more soap opera-ish in its construction, resulting in a very personal but benign, unremarkable film.
The main asset of "C'est La Vie," which sets it apart from films with similar subjects, is its perceptive ability to see from a child's point of view. Many movies strain to attempt such a viewpoint but few succeed as strongly as this one, which shows very well how adults can be unwittingly, yet quite casually cruel to their own children.
The film begins with a family preparing to spend the summer at a beach resort, but there is tension between the parents, Lena and Michel (Nathalie Baye, Richard Berry), resulting in confusion for the children, Sophie and Frederique (Candice LeFranc, Julie Bataille), sisters who are 8 and 13, respectively
When Mom takes the girls to board the train - telling Sophie to say she's 6, so she can get a reduced fare - she sends them off with the maid Odette (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and says she'll come along later, which really sets her young daughters wondering what's going on.
Odette and the children settle into the beach house, which is a bit shabbier than in years past and a longer walk to the beach, and settle in to mingling with their cousins and aunt and uncle.
Eventually, Lena arrives with a boyfriend whom she sneaks out to see at night, and it isn't long before Michel also shows up, leading to a violent fight with his wife.
Most of this is shown through the eyes of young adolescent Frederique, who is going through her own troubles at the beginning of her teenage years. Kurys' direction of all this is surprisingly objective; there are no real villains here, though the father is shown to be quite brutish in a horrifying physical fight with the mother.
And though divorce was more taboo and perhaps is thought to have been a tad more devastating in the 1950s - though it seems no less devastating today to the parties involved - Kurys seems to be saying just what her film's title says, "C'est La Vie," which means "That's life."
There's nothing wrong with that casual approach, but in this case, as a pervasive attitude it also affects the film's movement, which is lethargic and unfocused.
If there were some more humor or irony or perhaps an edge to the material, it might be more compelling. As it is, it's interesting but neither the characters nor the story are strong enough to make us care a great deal.
"C'est La Vie" is not rated but would seem to be in PG-13 territory, with violence (the domestic fight), nudity (a prank played on Odette,- who is lying on the beach with her bathing suit untied) and a few scattered profanities and vulgarities.