How do you make grief visible onscreen? Showing a character crying or looking sad for the length of a feature-length film is, of course, out of the question. A very young French-American filmmaker, Alexandre Leter, who was only 17 when he made the film Pau a couple of years ago, chose a surrealistic approach to the subject. His movie (in French with English subtitles) has now been selected for a 10-day run at the Saint André des Arts art-house cinema as part of its “Découvertes du Saint André” series.
Pau is more or less plotless, unless you consider a young woman (the eponymous Pau, played by the beautiful Louise Boulard) chasing the phantom of her recently deceased father (Yannick Herbert) around Paris and the Île de Ré a plot.
She might encounter him in the street or sitting under a tree or spy him sleeping on a sofa through the window of a furniture store, whose door is locked by a heartless young clerk just as she tries to enter. Most of the time he disappears before she gets to speak to him, but occasionally they manage to exchange a few words. In one scene, he even pops up as a skeleton.
Pau is sometimes joined by her friend Martin (Damien Vaurraz), a clown in whiteface, complete with red nose and floppy shoes, who tries to cheer her up by clowning around or philosophizing, to no avail. The other character is her thrifty grandmother (Colette Kraffe) who refuses to throw away a bottle of ketchup that is long past its expiration date. This scene is amusing but seems superfluous, as is another in which a young man appears to die at the same time as his cell phone’s battery gives out.
The film also has lots of special effects and some beautiful imagery, including a scene in which we see the lighting of a match reflected in Pau’s eye, and others of and from a sailboat.
Leter’s creativity and talent come through strongly in this short feature (one hour and 10 minutes long) and bode well for his future as a filmmaker. While Pau has its flaws (the dream world it creates sometimes feels repetitive), you can only admire the enterprising Leter when you know that he was only 17 at the time and that he made the film to help him work through the recent death of his own father. Pau had a minuscule budget of €12,000, raised through crowdfunding, and the actors are not friends, as one might imagine, but were recruited through the Internet.
One question I have about Pau is, Why did Leter cast a young woman as the main character for this semi-autobiographical film? I assume it was to put some distance between himself and the character – a laudably professional instinct – but you might want to ask him yourself. He will be on hand after each 1pm screening from March 13 to 25 (except Tuesday, March 19) at the Saint André des Arts cinema (30, rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006 Paris) to field questions from the audience.