Pictured: Suzanne (Suzanne Lindon) sneaks into a theatre in a scene from 'Spring Blossom' (Seize Printemps), a coming-of-age drama with dance interludes written and directed by Lindon. Still courtesy of Paname Distribution (France)
Ah to be sixteen again and revel in insecurity. To shave for the first time and watch the blood flow. To sweat and barely notice my glasses sliding down my nose. To have little sense of how my clothes shaped people’s impressions of me.
However, I am writing to celebrate the accomplishment of Suzanne Lindon, who completed her first film, Seize Printemps (Spring Blossom) at the age of twenty. As if this wasn’t enough, the film was selected for inclusion in the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. Admittedly, the festival didn’t take place, but the honour (and the logo at the start of the film) remains. Lindon is easily the youngest writer-director whose work I have written about in this series and she’s taken a leaf out of the Orson Welles school of self-promotion by giving herself the leading role. Apparently, the film solely exists to showcase Lindon’s acting talents – she is the daughter of Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain, both of whom continue to have successful careers in French cinema. However, she has cast herself as a sixteen-year-old. There is a big difference between sixteen and nineteen, even I discovered – notably the amount of tissue paper on your face when you are younger.
Lindon plays Suzanne, not herself but the daughter of two cultured parents (Frédéric Pierrot, Florence Viala) who still live together and share a bed – Lindon’s parents split up in 2008. Her film isn’t autobiographical, rather it is about a teenager who stalks and then ingratiates herself with a theatre actor, Raphaël (Arnaud Valois) whom she sees outside a café near the Théâtre De L’Atelier on her way to school.
At the start of the film, Suzanne seems to be a girl apart. Amongst her friends, she alone orders a grenadine and lemonade which she drinks through a straw and she sucks up a tiny amount that has dripped onto the table. In this scene, she is simultaneously unguarded and unnoticed. Suzanne isn’t the prettiest girl – she reminded me of the artist Tracey Emin. She is not the most consequential either. Growing up, Lindon’s celebrity parents may have drawn people to make friends with her; without them, one wonders why she is in this group?
We watch her take off her blue drawstring bag and open her purse to put money on the table, all without finishing her drink. One can imagine Lindon doing this, but not an ordinary schoolgirl. It is as if Lindon was passing off her exceptionalism – and the privilege granted to her - as normal. You too can have your first film selected for Cannes. Yes, sure!
If we watch her close that blue drawstring bag once, we watch it several times. Lindon is interested in showing her own movement. Several times, the camera follows her as she enters her apartment, as if she is racing to discover something. It is like the build-up to an action sequence that doesn’t take place. Suzanne’s interactions with her family at the breakfast table are mundane. ‘What are you doing today?’ ‘Going to work.’ Is Lindon sure that this film needs to be seventy-three minutes long?
Still, the point of showing Suzanne at the breakfast table is to contrast it in a scene when she skips breakfast. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Suzanne has an older, prettier (but still school-age) sister, Marie (Rebecca Marder) who has a boyfriend who sleeps over; she asks for Suzanne’s help, but Suzanne claims she is busy (typical teenager).
She is greeted by her classmates, who take it in turns to kiss her cheeks as she waits outside the school gate. Suzanne herself is distracted. She goes to a party and misremembers the door code. A group of boys arriving after her let her in, whilst remarking, ‘I thought you didn’t go to these things.’ She sits between two girls prettier than herself, one drinking a beer while paying attention to the scene, the other holding a red cup and waiting for something to happen. ‘I don’t like beer,’ Suzanne remarks and gives her bottle to the girl on her right (so now the girl has two beers). It is as if she is trying out a set of potential habits and finds them wanting. Suzanne dances next to the main throng and then is pushed into the group. She feels uncomfortable. A girl asks her to rate boys out of ten. Suzanne doesn’t want to (‘I think it’s rude’). Eventually, she says that she would rate all boys a five. The party scene and the sequence building up to it – telling her family that she is going out, kissing her mother to negotiate an extra half hour on her curfew – one AM, not twelve-thirty as proposed – kickstart the film into life. Suzanne does not fit into teenage life well and one imagines that Lindon (experiencing life through a celebrity filter) didn’t like it much either.
Which is why her infatuation with Raphaël – the way he holds his steak knife – seems natural. Lindon’s upbringing means that being around older actors – and wanting to be one herself – is acceptable. Her parents must have been the calm centre of attention in company; why wouldn’t she want that for herself? In her movie, because she is not playing the victim, rather the stalker, her fictional parents are together.
Nevertheless, the film raises the question: why does Raphaël socialise with a schoolgirl when he could be accused of being exploitative? Rock stars of a certain age are grateful for the attention from young fans vying for backstage passes. But lesser known theatre actors? Raphaël is the odd one out in a three-person company – the other two actors, a man and a woman, are in their sixties. Suzanne sneaks in to watch one of his rehearsals and Raphaël is asked by the director to stand in the middle of the stage, in a scene in which he is not meant to appear and play a tree. ‘I want your energy,’ the director insists. Raphaël assumes the position; his right arm is wilting. His co-star almost walks into him. ‘I want you to be an oak,’ instructs the director. Raphaël plants his feet together, bends his knees and points upward. He looks as if he might dive off the stage. ‘That’s not an oak,’ the director exclaims. Raphaël gets his wish and leaves the stage. As he does so, Suzanne sneaks out of the auditorium.
They eventually meet, Raphaël standing with a cigarette, noticing her. ‘Do you have a light?’ he asks. ‘You already have one,’ she replies. She explains that she goes to school and walks past the theatre. They meet again another day when Suzanne takes a seat next to his at the café. She has ordered a grenadine and lemonade. He tastes it using her straw. It feels like an intrusion, but he compliments her drink, liking the colour and ordering one himself. The grenadine comes in a glass accompanied by a small bottle of lemonade. He pours the lemonade, drinks a little, then leaves. After he has gone, Suzanne sips from his glass.
They meet more regularly, even though their conversations are banal – for example, Raphaël asking her if she reads more than novels - he sees her holding a book by the polymath Boris Vian, author of l’ecume des jours – filmed by Michel Gondry as Mood Indigo. ‘Of course. I read novels, plays and sometimes poetry.’ Suzanne sounds like she is speaking with an elementary grasp of French, bland, colourless, surely enough to repel Raphaël. Au contraire. At one point, he waits outside her apartment with his motorcycle. But Suzanne won’t climb aboard; her parents will get mad. So they walk through the streets. You feel for Raphaël: heavy motorcycles are not meant to be wheeled by hand.
Pictured: 'You know, we could just take the metro.' Raphaël (Arnaud Valois) wheels his mobylette next to sixteen year old Suzanne (Suzanne Lindon), in a scene from the French film 'Spring Blossom', written and directed by Lindon. Still courtesy of Paname Distribution (France)
At another point, outside the theatre, they arrange to meet for breakfast at 8:30am. The next day, Suzanne refuses breakfast at home and asks her mother for five euro.
Before this point, Suzanne’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, walling into her parents’ bedroom at two in the morning and asking her father whether he prefers girls in dresses, skirts or ‘pantelon’ (trousers). ‘I like skirts – to see a woman’s legs,’ he replies, before adding, ‘I also like pantelon’. Not much help; Suzanne chooses jeans.
At school, during religious study, her classmate besieges her with questions as Suzanne writes in her book. Was Jesus Jewish or Christian? Is Judas related to Judaism? The questions go on and on. Suzanne tells her to be quiet.
The set design is on-the-nose, with Suzanne having the film poster for Maurice Pialat’s 1983 film Suzanne (aka A Nos Amours) about a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl (Sandrine Bonnaire) who has sex with lots of boys. Less prominent is the poster for Bambi. Suzanne is nothing like the protagonist of Pialat’s film. In fact, her film veers away from naturalism, notably in a table dance sequence in which Suzanne and Raphaël’s movements are in synch. The sequence belongs in a different movie – though it would be out of place in a Hal Hartley film – and it is the only stylistic misstep; I was glad when it finished. Much better is a scene when Raphaël shares his headphones with Suzanne and she listens to the classical music that forms the overture to the play. She is as enamoured with the music as he is. There are two other dance sequences that fit better with the tone; the first when Suzanne dances in the street by herself (to express her joy at connecting with Raphaël), the second dancing with her mother.
At a certain point, Suzanne finds herself at a theatrical party and talking to a set designer who does his level best to make set designing dull, though he does mention how the set was repainted why and how green is an unlucky colour to put on the stage. (One imagines that Lindon heard such a conversation from one of her parents’ colleagues.) Raphaël calls her over to meet Rene, but she doesn’t meet him. It sounds like something she ought to have done if it was appropriate for her to be in a close relationship with someone nineteen years her senior. But the relationship is inappropriate.
The play’s run ends as does Suzanne’s brief relationship. She is disconsolate, collapsing into the arms of her mother. ‘I’ve falling in love with an adult,’ she wails tearfully. It is a shocking admission but also the end of a season in which everything changed.
There are some amusing scenes, for example, when Suzanne is told that her parents are going out. ‘You are going to see a play?’ ‘Why do you say that?’ asks her father. ‘Because you’re cultured.’ Suzanne’s sister smiles. ‘No, we’re not seeing a play. We wouldn’t do that.’ It is as if Suzanne considered her parents’ life as independent adults for the first time, though with limited imagination. There is also a scene in which she puts on eyeliner (again, we sense, for the first time) and smears it on her face. She has make-up remover, but she is in danger of putting it in her eye; Lindon shows a facility for physical comedy.
One of the few scenes that doesn’t involve Suzanne has Raphaël approach his director. ‘I don’t know how to act,’ he confesses. ‘Here,’ says his director kindly, ‘have some chocolate.’ What Raphaël is really saying is that he doesn’t know how to act as a man, being in a relationship with a schoolgirl. He goes with the flow, but the outcome is inevitable.
The film doesn’t discuss morals. Instead it just ends. Do we believe in Suzanne? I didn’t, and with the detours into non-naturalism, neither does Lindon. The film has sincerity, of a sort, and it was made by a teenager. But for Covid-19, it could have had a big spring Cannes premiere – a real spring blossom. For now, we hope it achieves its aim of getting Lindon cast in movies.