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La Vie Promise

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When we first meet Sylvia (Isabelle Huppert), she's a beaten-down (literally) prostitute working the streets in Nice. A chance encounter with her long-estranged teen-age daughter Laurence (Maud Forget) ends badly, and the two set off on a journey north, ostensibly to locate Sylvia's former husband. They are joined by Joshua (Pascal Greggory), another lost soul on the road. The trio form, splinter and re-unite in Olivier Dahan's moody road-trip narrative. Unfortunately, his plot is typical fare and his characters are thinly sketched; gradually we are privy to Sylvia's recovered memories that fill in some of her history, but Laurence and Joshua remain poorly defined and in the moment, and we're forced to chalk them up as the road-movie archetypes "bruised runaway teen" and "sensitive fleeing criminal." (Dahan's use of American alt-country music heightens this sensation of familiarity.) An extended metaphor about flowers never quite gels but does provide some lush visuals. Huppert, who wears her years like a fierce badge, is terrific, and she delivers a portrait of a difficult but ultimately sympathetic woman with ease. It's a shame the script couldn't live up to the same emotional complexity. In French with subtitles. 2.5 cameras

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