As the opening scene in La Fille Seule unfolds, there is a sense that 1960 is happening all over again. Instead of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Michel walking up to the cafe counter, counting the change in his pocket to the background sounds of cafe culture, the new gamin, Remi, is played by Benoit Maginel. In an obvious homage to Godard’s films from the Sixties, where the battle of the sexes is played to the sound of pinball machines and cigarette haze, La Fille Seule attempts to recreate a similar sexual tension in the Nineties, and almost succeeds.
The title female is Virginie, played with careless doe-eyed brilliance by Virginie Ledoyen. Stopping by the cafe before her first day of work at a posh hotel, Virginie must tell boyfriend Remi that she is pregnant. Furthermore, Virginie wants to keep the baby. As the Parisian morning commences, the two not-so-adult figures must contemplate a very adult situation. The easiest way for them to communicate is to throw verbal spars, entering a cycle of fighting and absolution. They are infatuated, but as Virginie suspects aloud, love is not enough to keep a relationship going. Remi is a likable louse: he lives with his parents, has no job and is without ambition or ideals.
Virginie’s morning is observed in real time, as she weaves back and forth between her private world with Remi, and her public duties at the hotel. The hotel is a microcosm of French society–the characters are either those who serve or those who are served. Among the hotel employees is Sabine, who works the room service shift with Virginie. Sabine is unhappily entering the old-maid years. Without the hope of love in the near future, she watches with bitterness as men fall for Virginie. Virginie is the type of girl guys fall for, not unlike another Jacquot heroine in La Desenchantee. Sabine is the only person in the hotel who interests Virginie; she guesses Virginie is pregnant and gives her some hard advice.
The most compelling moments of the film are when Virginie sneaks off to call her mother. The spectator is privileged to their relationship only through Virginie, who breaks between being a spoiled brat and a soothing mother’s companion. Their relationship is not as easy to pin down as Virginie’s relationships with others.
During the street scenes, passerbys stare directly at the camera, giving the film the impression of an underground fly-by production. The stares also evoke the idea that everyone has become a voyeur into this girl’s private musings. The dialogue resorts to trite mutterings, but somehow fits into the language of these two overgrown teenagers.
It is striking how quietly the film plays. Sounds, especially human noises, seem a transgression on the camera’s all too physical worship of Virginie. Besides being beautiful, Ledoyen arms Virginie with a grace of child-like sadness and spunk that is at once captivating and off-putting.
La Fille Seule is a collection of gestures and glimpses that build to create a compelling character study of a lonely, single girl.
– Sue Hugh