Life’s Little Choices

Wow, the French really know how to sadden your soul while offering you no resolution. Making Plans for Lena (Non Ma Fille, Tu N’iras Pas Danser) centres around a recently separated, somewhat eccentric, very self-sufficient and emotionally-guarded, woman who takes her two young children to stay with her family in their country home in France.  Stress and conflict follow as her parents and siblings not only have their own major personal issues, but aren’t shy about sharing their judgements on Lena’s life choices and what she should do next. And that is just the first half of the movie!

Lena, played by Chiara Mastroianni, presents a complex and unhinged character, who despite being more than a little lost in the world, is likeable and sympathetic.  She struggles with her children, her romantic life, her work interests, and the dynamics of the ex-wife/husband relationship. The last part of the film takes place back in the city, which creates an interesting contrast in scenery from the picturesque simplicity of the family farm.  Although the setting changes, the issues remain the same, thus further examining her struggle for independence and clarity.

I very much appreciated the sense of reality portrayed in this film.  Although the familial bonds are being stretched by differing opinions and secrets, the underlying love is apparent. Many of us know what its like to be bickering about major life issues, while we take pains to set the table for a nice lunch.

The character of Lena also raises the question of what a good mother should be.  Setting aside the fact that everyone, including her pregnant sister, is smoking throughout the film and around the children, how do we define what good parentage should look like?  Lena’s parents, mainly her mother, are overbearing and critical, and cant wait to jump in and take control of her life the way they feel it should be.  Lena herself is much more laid back and straightforward, thereby creating a friendship with her children that perhaps lacks the necessary security for them to feel safe. Which is better? Is there a lesson in there for us, to not simply revolt against our own upbringing by becoming the exact opposite type of parent?

The pacing of the film is fairly slow and unpredictable.  Changes in action, location, character, and motivation seem to appear out of nowhere and either resolve or escalate in ways you had no idea were coming.  It deals with dark emotional questions without being at all over-the-top or stagey. I know I’ve said it before but I really feel that foreign films are often the only genre that offer an audience these fresh, somewhat unstructured takes on life.  Obviously not everything that is foreign-made will be this way, but so far I have found that the very distinction of being set in another culture provides a much better escape for someone looking for entertainment sources other than the latest Mission Impossible or quirky Rom-Com starring Ben Stiller.

When I plugged the original French title into google translate, I found that it means, loosely, ‘Not my daughter, you will not go dancing’, which I think is a much more evocative title.  It not only presents various images of a young woman trying to find her freedom, but it doesn’t telegraph the plot in the way that the current English title seems to.  I immediately would want to know who these cruel conventional parents are and why they will not let their sweet girl dance, n’est pas?  So please do not let the title put you off from watching a lovely thoughtful film with complicated antics and unique revelations.

You can watch Making Plans for Lena ‘Non ma fille, tu n’iras pas danser’ now on Netflix.