Milla (Valérie Massadian, 2017): France

Reviewed by Alicia Huhn.  Viewed at the Chinese 3 Theater in Hollywood at American Film Institute’s AFIFEST 2017.

Milla is at once a likable character and a moving film.  Getting to meet Valérie Massadian and hear her story of making the film was an extreme gift!

This photo is a snapshot from one of my favorite 2 moments in the film.  Milla stares deeply into the camera; her open stare allowing the viewer to look back into her eyes, feeling the depth of her lonesome and thoughtful awareness.  She is actually able to do this 2 times in the film.  Severine Jonckeere demonstrates her comfortability with a long silent pause in front of the camera; without saying a word she conveys deep and complex emotion.  Valérie is wise in her minimalist or documentary approach to film making by allowing the natural vibe of the available mise-en-scene to imbue the film with emotion.  

In the beginning Milla is romantically carefree and quite giggly.  Her playful charm an indicator of the light and love she possesses and which eventually carries her through the events to come. A success story for women but also for humanity, it is a story of the strength of a woman without being about the failures of a man.  Unlike many other stories of lonely women who’s men have abandoned them somehow, this story portrays men in a positive light.  The father is a hero and his love is passed on in her love of the child.  Milla is not a bitter person, she looks for positive ways to move forward in life.  One of the things I find striking about her character is her nonchalant personality, she generally takes it easy even when its not.  There is no pretentiousness in this film to be found, not in Milla’s concerns for life nor anyone around her including the director.  Milla is a softly focused, gritty tale about the bitter-sweetness of the beauty of life intertwined with the dark or unexpected moments.

There is hope and new life to be found.  It is definitely about Milla’s ability to continue to smile and find love and happiness in spite of some significant obstacles.  Two of my favorite props in this minimalist film are the beautiful rosebud sheet hanging to dry from the clothes line as well as the sheer red drapes blowing in the wind, both infusing a loving glow and feminine delicate sweetness against the backdrop of homelessness, grief and single-motherhood.   As a young woman Milla is resourceful and finds work with understanding women who appear to support her efforts. She mentions wanting a life better than what the welfare system can provide.  The story progresses over a few years with the child growing up happy and supported. They are finding their way.

There is an innocence and believability to the characters in the film in part due the fact that Severine Jonckeere is a single mom in real life and Ethan Jonckeere is truly her child; it is obvious.  Massadian also confessed to the fact that she made use of natural light, setting and timing of events as much as possible in the making.  Massadian demonstrates the brilliance of simplicity and the inherent beauty of life and love.  Do what you can with what you’ve got and smile a lot is my personal takeaway.

The simple abandoned house becomes a romantic safe haven in their world, they seem oblivious to what anyone would “think”.  The film seems to say, “the world itself and the people, as they are, is beautiful enough.  Even the fathers love is enough although he is gone his spirit is remembered.  More striking, than the film was the heart of the woman who made it. I can say honestly from only meeting her once that she is the stuff we need more of in this world.  She is a brave woman herself for getting this movie made and several awards and festivals.  Massadian is dedicated to the truth being told and the justice it does to the actors and all involved. Massadian is an inspiring female director with a passion I intend to follow.

Home is where the heart is and my heart is with Massadian and the cast of Milla.  Thank you.








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