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Olivier, Olivier

Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Starring Brigitte Roüan, Francois Cluzet, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Grégoire Colin, Marina Golovine, Frédéric Quiring.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 14, 1993

Written and directed by the woman who, last time out, gave us the surprise foreign film hit Europa, Europa, I can only say that I like this new movie Olivier, Olivier even more, more. Aside from the obvious titling echoes, both films contain general thematics of the outsider who's always trying to fit in with the larger group. In Europa, Europa, a Jewish boy during WWII adopts a variety of identities in order to pass unharmed through society, though he worries in each situation that his circumcision will give him away if he gets too “naked.” The kernel of Olivier, Olivier springs from a true story about a young French boy's disappearance. The movie begins like a fairy tale, young Olivier vanishes as he's bicycling through the woods to bring lunch to his sick grandmother. In fact, the movie's namesake Olivier is absent more than he is present in the movie and that's really what the story's about: how his absence unravels this supposedly idyllic family structure. Olivier lives with his mom, dad and sister in a farmhouse in the country. Dad's a veterinarian, his older sister Nadine has an active imagination that dominates his own, and Mom coddles the boy and is prone to 20th century housewife ennui. Things are a little bit strange but, for the most part, we see their lives as a country idyll. Then, Olivier disappears and the seams that held things together burst and the group becomes genuinely dysfunctional. The dappled country sunlight becomes a shadowy illumination as Mom retreats into her pain and acrimony, Dad moves to Chad, and Nadine -- well, Nadine finally gets more of her mother's attention and, incidentally, becomes telekinetic. Many years pass and then a police officer discovers a teenaged Parisian street hustler whom he thinks may be Olivier. Is he or isn't he? How this regrouping affects the rest of the family is what the latter half of the movie is about. Can paradise be regained, especially if it was never really there to begin with? Where Europa, Europa always seemed a very time-specific, individual story, Olivier, Olivier manages to express more universal quandaries while at the same time expressing the director's personal vision and conclusions. Olivier, Olivier also reminds me of a much overlooked Agnes Varda movie from years back, Le Bonheur. It, more than anything I can think of, captured the banality of happiness and the manure that fertilizes the bucolic. Now, with this French language movie Olivier, Olivier, it seems that director Holland, a Polish exile whose career has already received much acclaim, is beginning to develop a personal voice that is as strong and articulate as her evident sociopolitical sentiments.
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