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Brodeuses (2004)

A Common Thread

Directed by:

Éléonore Faucher

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 87 minutes

UK Certificate: 12a

Country: France

Seventeen-year old amateur embroiderer Claire (Lola Naymark) does not want anyone to know that she is pregnant, and intends to give the baby up for adoption – so she takes sick leave from her supermarket job (telling her workmates that she has cancer), and seeks an apprenticeship, at least for the duration of her pregnancy, with skilled piecework embroiderer Madame Mélikian (Ariane Ascaride). Mourning the recent death of her son in an accident, and struggling to meet a pressing deadline, Mélikian agrees to take Claire on only for a short time – but as the two women work together on an elaborate veil, a bond develops between them which mends over the rips in the fabric of their lives.

Women handing down skills from one generation to the next, as they lend each other sisterly support in personal problems, and work together on something intricate and beautiful – in essence, this is a type of plot uncomfortably close to Jocelyn Moorhouse’s ‘How to Make an American Quilt’ (1995), promising sentimentality of the most irksome kind. Thankfully, however, in her debut feature ‘A Common Thread’, Éléonore Faucher eschews mawkishness, preferring understatement to tear-jerking excess. Claire may be desperately confused and isolated, and Mélikian may be suicidally grief-stricken, but their crises are portrayed with a quiet restraint, all to the accompaniment of Michael ‘In The Mood For Love’ Galasso’s gracefully elegiac soundtrack.

Where ‘A Common Thread’ really comes into its own is in the superb low-key performances of the two leads, and in the evocative lyricism of its imagery. In one memorable sequence, the scarf which Claire wears over her hair to suggest the effects of chemotherapy combines with Pierre Cottereau’s cinematography to transform this small-town teenager into Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring – an unexpected but significant epiphany in a film that is all about turning ordinary materials into objects of exquisite beauty and value. The reality of Claire’s estrangement from not only her own mother (Elisabeth Commelin) but also the whole idea of motherhood is offset by Claire’s dreamlife – idyllic tableaux in which the mother is always a prominent and caring figure. The film’s visual craft mirrors the complex pattern that Claire and her instructress manufacture together as a spell against death, despair and reality’s harshnesses, conjuring up the hopes and dreams that make it possible for life to continue.

It's Got: Superbly subdued performances from Lola Naymark and Ariane Ascaride; exquisitely beautiful mise-en-scène; a haunting score by Michael Galasso; and absolutely no sentimentality.

It Needs: To lose the annoying French pop song that plays over the closing credits and utterly destroys the mood that the rest of the film has so carefully embroidered.

Alternatives:

How to Make an American Quilt, Under the Tuscan Sun

Summary

A lyrical look at the fabric of maternity.

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