At Ellen’s Age (Im Alter von Ellen) by Pia Marais, released today on the French screens, distributed by Les Films sans Frontières, after its world premiere at the Festival del film Locarno in 2010 (international competition.)
Modern cinema is the art of portraiture. Rossellini’s Europa 51, Antonioni’s L’avventura and The Red Desert paved the way for a cinema of introspection and psychological study, a desire for fiction closely linked to the idea of crisis and flight. Im Alter von Ellen is only the second feature from young German filmmaker Pia Marais, but it such an accomplished, brilliantly handled film that right from the start it is clear that it is one of the most important films of the decade. Cinema is also about encounters. There is no doubt that what we see of a filmmaker who knows what she wants, working with an actress at the top of her game (the great French actress Jeanne Balibar, brilliant in her first German-speaking role), will soon see them both ranking among the key figures of contemporary cinema. Jeanne Balibar plays Ellen, an air hostess. Her job keeps her constantly on the move, but such journeys take her nowhere; she feels alienated by a disappointing and predictable life. Tired of her existence and dissatisfied with her relationships, she decides to throw it all in and take to the road, leaving herself open to chance encounters and events. The narrative moves into unpredictable mode, without ever losing sight of what makes a gréât film: the beauty of the observer (Pia Marais) and that of the observed (Jeanne Balibar). There is no need to point out that they are both at the height of their artistic powers. This is rare enough to merit plaudits, and to provide confirmation, in a film that dares abrupt shifts in tone and chance events along the way, that all is grace.