Milla (Valerie Massadian, 2017) France

Reviewed by Carolina Ayala de Anselmo. Seen at the AFI Film Festival.

French director Valerie Massadian breaks our hearts with a realistic portrayl of french youth in Milla. In her second movie since the Award winning Nana (2011), the filmmaker explores the world of French working-class teen Milla, as she struggles with teen pregnancy alone. The star, Severine Jonckeere, stars in her film debut alongside her real life son, 3 year-old Ethan Jonckeere. In this beautiful, heart-touching drama, we follow Milla as she is forced to grow up following the conseuquences that follow this 3 piece narrative.

In this beautifully shot movie, the camera is a character always present and still in the room. The shots are long and takes longer, allowing a deeper and intimate look into the main the character’s life. For the first part of the movie the scenes happene in an abandoned house that she and her boyfriend (Luc Chessel) turn into their house. With improvised dialogue for most scenes, and no dialogue for the most part, Milla touches our soul through the lighting foreshadowing death, scenes with no cuts and monologues written by the own actors.

The heart-rob is undoubtely Ethan Jonckeere, that at 3 years-old, steals our hearts, our laughs and our tears. The pair, mother and son, were discovered by the Massadian when she was scouting for her main character in low-income shelters, when she came across Severine, she was sure she was the one. She later came to learn that the story of the character Milla, was much similar to the actress’. In a very emotional breakthrough, Severine Jonckeere, portrays a character that is very much like her, emotional and determined.

In this tale about hope and finding happiness, the shots are very intimate – with low key lighting and single setting – although there aren’t many close ups. However, in the three close ups of the main character, there is a silence and Jonckeere’s emotions are clearly understood. The narrative is divided into three parts as we follow the main character’s personal growth. In the first part we meet a happy Milla, living with her boyfriend and excited about the future. In the second and third part we meet a much more mateur Milla, who has had to deal with unplanned circumstances but remains determined to do what is best for her baby.

With beautiful cinematography, the movie resembles a documentary following the life of a pregnant teen, a very recurrent but undocumented subject. As Valerie Massadian said about them at the Q&A, “they are majority, yet they don’t exist”. Much like her first two movies (Nana and Lena), the director gives voice to young independent women owners of their own destiny. Massadian is not only an extremely talented filmmaker, but also an actress. In the second part of the movie, she plays the part of a colleague at a hotel Milla is working. Apart from her boyfriend and son, this is Milla’s only emotional relationship in the movie, resembling a mother-figure, she reminded the audience that Milla was still a girl.

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