A Simple Story
Bavo Defune’s “Souvenir” is a simple story about Liliane (Isabelle Huppert) who lives a quiet anonymous life and works in a paté factory. Her job is boring like her life. She takes the bus home and spends the evening drinking and watching quiz shows on television. Jean Leloup (Kevin Azais), enters her life. He is also a factory worker who, in his off hours, trains to become a future lightweight champion. While sitting with Liliane one day at lunch he tells her that she looks familiar to him. He realizes that he recognizes her from years ago when ago she won the “European Song Contest” (clearly meant to be “Eurovision”), and had a brief season as a star under the name of Laura. Liliane has no desire to dredge up that past but there is something about Jean’s childlike enthusiasm that attracts her and she admits that yes, she was that “Laura.” There was a tabloid scandal involving her husband/manager running off with all her money, and then Laura “sank into oblivion.”
The focus of the film is how these two people at different stages in their lives, both in transition, find comfort and energy in teaming up. Jean gets pummeled in the ring. He’s not good enough to be a champion and he needs to come to terms with the fact he has no plan for his life. Liliane misses being “Laura,” and misses having stuff to do besides decorating paté eight hours a day. Jean is in awe of her and comes up with the idea that she needs to make a “comeback” and he will be her manager. She goes along with this, reluctantly at first then nervously and finally enthusiastically.
Jean and Liliane relationship becomes romantic early on even though there’s a 40-year age difference but this is not a main issue of the film. We are more concerned if Liliane can revive her career, if there is still a public out there who remembers her and how an audience will react to her return. triumph. The love story is simply a logical next step in the characters’ collaboration. The relationship is on a low boil and this is refreshing but it’s also a trap.
It is difficult to discern what exactly is at stake for the characters. It’s obvious that Liliane has missed the stage. She loves hypnotizing an audience with her stylized performances. She is both awkward and riveting but we never really know how she how she feels about fame, Jean’s ambition and about music
Huppert is an amazing actress who walks into scenes with such freedom that she creates a completely unpredictable atmosphere. Any film would really have to go out of its way to convince audiences that the great Isabelle Huppert could be a factory worker who rides the bus after her shift is over and watches lousy television when she gets home, still smelling like the pâté she makes at work. Huppert’s iconic gravitas pleasantly highlights the contrast between Liliane and Jean, and while the screenplay is just too predictable, it is a must see because of her amazing performance.