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‘Girl From Paris’ reveals longings that know no season

Times Staff Writer

Christian Carion’s engaging “The Girl From Paris” is an unusually mature first feature from a filmmaker who understands that the greatest mysteries are those of the human heart. Wise, understated, warm and witty, it presents stars Michel Serrault and Mathilde Seigner in roles that fit them so perfectly they could have been tailor-made.

Seigner’s Sandrine is a tall, sturdy Greek goddess of a woman who has a good job as an Internet instructor and a nice apartment but at 30 has had enough of hectic Parisian life. She announces to her loving but alarmed mother (Francoise Bette) that she’s quitting her job to enroll in agricultural college. She soon becomes the top student, and her advisor urges Adrien (Serrault), a taciturn goat farmer deep in the Rhone Alps, to sell his place to her with the provision that he will be able to stay on for 18 months until a family home in Grenoble becomes available as his retirement residence.

After some grumbling, Adrien agrees, and Sandrine proves to be a take-charge woman far beyond his expectations. In record time -- likely possible only in the movies -- she has turned an abandoned cow barn into a handsome residence and small inn. Using the Internet, she markets her goat cheese and gives schoolchildren nature tours. She is a pillar of self-confidence, but as the resolutely crusty Adrien’s grudging respect for her grows in spite of himself, he begins to wonder how she will stand up to her first terribly harsh winter.

Carion has now gracefully and amusingly arrived at the heart of the matter: Will Adrien regard the advent of winter as Sandrine’s comeuppance or will he offer her a helping hand? Adrien cannot deny the impact on him of Sandrine’s presence, reminding him at once of his mortality and his loneliness since the death of his wife a decade earlier. Even if Adrien could actually bring himself to reach out to Sandrine, that is no guarantee it would convince her to stay if she in fact becomes overwhelmed by the weather.

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Carion is above all advancing the eternal proposition that no man or woman is an island. Sandrine resolutely tells people she’s going to pursue her dream with or without a man, but “The Girl From Paris” increasingly makes us wonder whether she or Adrien will continue going it alone indefinitely. What concerns Carion is not sex or love or romance but simple human companionship, and Sandrine and Adrien are self-possessed and self-sufficient enough that the outcome is not at all certain.

“The Girl From Paris” is not fully a two-character drama, and it says something about Carion’s depth and imagination that two other key people prove pivotal in unexpected ways: the kindly Jean (Jean-Paul Roussillon), seemingly Adrien’s only friend, and Gerard (Frederic Pierrot), the adoring lover Sandrine left behind in Paris. Carion draws subtle portrayals from his actors, and the film is a high point both for the young Seigner and for the veteran Serrault, who at 75 remains a versatile stalwart of French cinema. Carion is also not afraid to show what it’s actually like to herd goats, but rest assured “The Girl From Paris” is never merely bucolic.

*

‘The Girl From Paris’

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MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Mature themes but suitable for older children.

Michel Serrault...Adrien

Mathilde Seigner...Sandrine

Jean-Paul Roussillon...Jean

Frederic Pierrot...Gerard

Francoise Bette...Sandrine’s mother

A Films Philos release. Director Christian Carion. Producer Christophe Rossignon. Screenplay Christian Carion, Eric Assous. Cinematographer Antoine Heberle. Editor Andrea Sedlackova. Music Philippe Rombi. Art director Jean-Michel Simonet. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

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