THREE AND A HALF STARS A seamstress at Dior takes on a young woman from the projects of Paris. Will they work through their fraught surrogate mother/daughter relationship?
DRAMA FRANCE French Language #HAUTECOUTURE
Starring Nathalie Baye, Lyna Khoudri
Effortlessly watchable, HAUTE COUTURE is the kind of French film that leverages its cultural caché with finesse - scenes from the tourist heart of Paris are matched to a story set in the fashion industry (at Dior in fact, a link that somehow escapes being blatant product placement which, of course, it is). Add a chanteuse soundtrack, ample red wine and some fine dining and the film could only be more French if there was a subplot involving a baker and baguette (there isn’t).
Suffice to say, it’s a francophile’s delight especially if you’re an older woman being put out to pasture, a younger woman from the wrong side of town or the type to swoon over stunning haute couture. Even if you’re none of those things but are drawn to a story of people coming together in the name of tradition, of ritual, of craft and of beauty, then Sylvie Ohayon’s compelling drama has a lot to offer.
Jade (Lyna Khoudri) and her best friend Souad live in the projects. They’re young, bored and unmotivated petty thieves. When they snatch a handbag that belongs to Esther (the always compelling Nathalie Baye), the simple act brings Dior’s retiring head seamstress into their orbit with unexpected consequences.
Foremost this is a story about mentoring youth. Esther senses Jade’s potential, if the youngster can dislodge the enormous chip on her shoulder. She gives Jade a chance in the workshop, a little because she wants to help and a little because she wants to make amends for being a lousy mother. For her part Jade is textbook Gen Z with all the charm, aggravation and self-importance that implies. But she’s also living on welfare and caring for her mentally ill mother, so there’s a soft side.
Writer/director Ohayon brings a great deal of class to her story that successfully marries the competing worlds of tantalising Haussmann Paris with the reality of Jade’s commission home and Esther’s apartment in the suburbs. She also keeps the story anchored in the hard graft of the workshop, barely hinting at the glamour housed in the name Dior. It’s a story about perseverance and hard work, about tradition and craft, about creating beauty. it’s a great match.
Ohayon rewards us with a robust performance by Baye and newcomer Khoudri who shines as a diamond-in-the-rough-polar-fleece. We’re also treated to a script that is both weighty when it needs to be and peppered with laugh-out-loud funny. There’s a touch of Gervais about some of the you-can’t-say-that comedy: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves weren’t from Sweden for instance. The over-arching narrative of HAUTE COUTURE may be familiar, but the execution is as fresh and lively as a gown from the Spring Collection.