Two French winners on video

Set Me Free Starring Karen Vanasse, Pascale Boussieres and Miki Manojlovic. Directed by Lea Pool.
Rated 4.0 Set Me Free, yet another of the recent outstanding foreign-language films that have reached Chico only on video, has the look and feel of a familiar genre as well—the European-style coming-of-age story. But while Lea Pool’s spikily autobiographical film steers clear of the false innocence and gross sentimentality to which the Anglo branch of the genre is prone, it is French Canadian rather than European.

And it is smart, fresh, bracingly free of self-pity, and given to bursts of transcendently stylish image making. Moreover, Pool’s gift for imagery is of more than mere decorative import: Young Hanna (Karen Vanasse) is herself a fledgling artist, and all matters of visual style become integral to her particular version of the coming-of-age process.

Hanna’s story is also a free-form portrait of her family and friends: the father (Miki Manjlovic), a Jewish refugee from Poland and an unsuccessful poet; the Catholic mother (Pascale Boussieres), a loyal and melancholy spouse with shaky nerves; a loving and exuberantly ne’er-do-well brother (Alexandre Merineau), who falls for the wryly seductive Laura (Charlotte Christeler) just before she herself does.

The setting is the early ‘60s, and the youthful ménage à trois, Hanna’s crude sexual encounters with older men, her enthusiasm for her brother’s waywardness, and her defiant pride in being the child of a Jew and a Catholic who have never gotten married—all figure in her rite of passage. But none of these is quite as important as her obsession with Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave classic, Vivre Sa Vie, whose doomed heroine she emulates in a variety of ways.