Writer / director Léonor Serraille's debut Jeune Femme... wait, this was her debut? Right. Some people are just way too talented.
We first meet Paula (Laetitia Dosch) as she contrives to give herself a vicious head injury attempting to smash in the door of her former lover's apartment door. Having spent ten years as his muse and lover, he has now moved on and no longer feels she is his responsibility. Cast adrift in Paris, a city she has no love for, Paula must deal with not having a job, a home or a mother that gives a shit. Of course, all of that must be dealt with whilst dealing with the most troublesome thing of all, herself. So, having swiped her exe's cat, Paula pinballs off into the night, variously driving her friends mad, screaming into he buzzer at her exe's apartment and bragging her way into employment.
To say that Paula is a force of nature is probably something of an understatement. Simultaneously her own worst enemy and her only salvation, Dosch is incredible in the role. A shrieking banshee one minute, her Paula is also incredibly fragile, to the point where the doctor asking her very pertinent questions about what is clearly not her first self inflicted injury at the beginning of the movie really makes you worry for her. The wonder of this movie though is that we follow Paula's gradual restoration without ever changing her fundamental character. This isn't a movie that presents you with a stand out eureka moment from which the character magnificently rises. Paula remains Paula throughout, her decisions are often badly informed and sometimes outright poor but they are her decisions.
Released from the cloying grasp of the Professor she has wasted ten years with (we get to meet the boorish, desperate, misogynist late in the piece), Paula finally has to face herself and deal with the consequences. If this is all coming across as glum, then that's entirely my fault. This is a movie stuffed with a kind of dry humour entirely befitting somebody who steals a cat, then attempts to abandon it at a cemetery. Only to have to take it to the vets later - indeed the deterioration in the cat's appearance is pretty much inversely proportional to Paula's resurgence (don't worry, the cat comes out just fine).
Jeune Femme (or Montparnasse Bienvenue as it appears to be called now) is a remarkable movie, bringing out the worst and best in someone's character without ever making the patronising assumption that a saviour (particularly a male one) is required or those two things are mutually exclusive. Dosch is incredible and for an experienced filmmaker this would be an accomplished piece. For a debut, it's genuinely impressive.