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L'adoption screened at recent Paris Film Festival

L'adoption written and directed by Alain-Paul Mallard
Screened at Paris Film Festival earlier in April

It is summer in a small town in France, a heat that weighs listlessly on a landscape of newly constructed identical houses and dry wasteland, intersected with slip roads and railway lines. To assuage their boredom, best friends Marion (Selma El Mouissi) and Mélanie (Iliana Zabeth), 10 and 12 years old respectively, ride around on their bikes and claim as their own a half-completed building abandoned in the middle of wasteland. With the self-conscious hesitation of children still used to obeying their parents, the building has become theirs, a space filled with posters, a low table, a carton of old toys, a pile of magazines, a space where they can play, chat, paint their nails and try out smoking.
It is here that Mélanie, the older, continues to assert her authority over Marion. While Mélanie is tall, dark, startilingly beautiful, astute and with a sometimes harsh tongue, Marion is small and fair, constantly pushing up her glasses awkwardly with her finger, and still wrapped in the softness of childhood.
On discovering an old man (Michel Debrane) dressed in striped pajamas, his shoulders clumsily covered by a grey blanket, the girls make fearful, giggly attempts to talk to him, but without success. It is here that the film becomes interesting. As it is a film about childhood and not the obligations of adulthood - including the police and the medical system - the girls make the natural decision to adopt him. They make this decision even though it is clear that the old man is unable to speak, understand what is happening, and is tragically lost somewhere in the past.
Taking him to their refuge, they steal from their own homes various objects - a pillow, a baby bottle, a camping light - to make his new home more comfortable. With a natural maternal instinct, they care for him, lulling him back into childhood. When the girls take turns holding his head in their laps, stroking his hair and feeding him milk out of a bottle, it is as if he is a baby. And when playing with one of the girls' dolls he discovers how to make it open and close its eyes, it is as if the old man is a child uncovering for the first time the tiniest wonders of the world.
Into this idyllic world, cracks appear: a poster asking for information about a Jean-François Dietlind, a run-away suffering from memory loss, an argument between the girls. Even though the ending is somewhat inevitable, it is still forceful and moving.
L'adoption is a poignant film, its beauty lying in its subtlety. While the filming style is classical and flowing, the occasional close-ups - a game of pick-up sticks, a kaleidoscope, a grasshopper, a snail - infuse the film with the bright, close, sensory experience of childhood.
The writer and director Alain-Paul Mallard, if he is to trace an inspiration, while living in Toronto some ten years ago saw a small photocopied poster in a subway station asking for information about an old man with a "wandering sickness." Even earlier still, from his own childhood, he overheard a story of a mentally retarded woman who had strayed from her brother's house. When they finally found her a few days later she had lost her left eye but as she was unable to speak, the days during which she was absent remained a mystery to her family. Some months later she strayed off again and eventually they found her dead in a ravine. Although nothing as tragic as this occurs, L'adoption still explores and portrays with sensitivity the suffering associated with these kinds of mental diseases.
L'adoption was well received at the 2004 Festival du Film de Paris, winning Le Prix du Public. The director Alain-Paul Mallard was born in Mexico, where he studied Hispanic literature and literary translation, then on moving to Toronto, intellectual European history. Since 1996 he has been living in Paris where he studied directing at the Fémis.

By Sarina Talip

Production: Joël Leyendecker
Lumière: Antoine Gianforcaro
Cadre: Javier Ruiz Gómez
Son: Claire-Anne Largeron
Décors: Angélique Verbeeck
Costumes: Caroline Tavernier
Montage: Jean-Denis Buré
Mixage: Benjamin Viau
1er assistant: Philip Buchot
Scripte: Christine Richard
Dir. de Production: Carla Georges
Musique Originale: Jefferson Lembeye

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