Little Lili (2003) Poster


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A Sensual Re-Interpretation of "The Seagull"
noralee22 November 2004
"La Petite Lili" is a delightful, visually enticing reinterpretation of Chekhov's "The Seagull" through a very Gallic sensibility, similar to how "Clueless" updated and Americanized Austen's "Emma."

While retaining most of the original dialogue and plot as a droll commentary on the more things change the more they stay the same, co-writer/director Claude Miller cleverly updates the artistic medium of debate from literature to film and uses his visual powers to very sensually illustrate the sub-text that in most productions is stifled under 19th century Russian costumes.

Because for all the high falultin' talk of aesthetics and generational conflict, and intellectual art vs. commercial pandering, lust is the primary motivator. Essentially, all the men are led around by their genitals and the women are empowered by controlling them (and it was suspenseful as to which of the competing women would succeed at it for the long run as to whether any of the men could remain faithful to them). For all their intellectual pretensions, all the characters are ruled by their emotions.

Miller wonderfully sets us up for the hot indolence of a country home weekend with a nude nubile Ludivine Sagnier, triggering a much more more effective mise en scene than Bernardo Bertolucci did in "Stealing Beauty." The effect Sagnier has on all the gathered extended family members is palpable and her brazen manipulations are consistent through to the ironic conclusion.

I thought through most of the movie that the director was possibly unaware of just how equally visually mesmerizing her counterpart Robinson Stévenin is on screen, as only one character responds to him, until I saw that James Dean is thanked in the acknowledgments and realized that Miller was using this brooding hunk as an archetype as well (his one final smile is almost a shock).

The last act is a culminating commentary on Chekhov's jarring denouement, claiming that "this is how it should have turned out." Miller softens some of the punishing sexism of the original while putting together a film-within-a-film like Hamlet's play-within-a-play that revenges on the ex-girlfriend, the mother, the mother's lover, etc. full of both comedy and tension.

The sub-titles are many times white on white for difficult reading.
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Proust's Way
moimoichan65 July 2006
The most annoying thing about french movies about cinema is certainly their need for self-criticism. By doing so, they think they can hide themselves from any other criticism. It's exactly like when someone tells you - with an ironic intonation - all his major flaws, only in order to be contradict. But showing your flaws is not suppressing them.

And so it goes with Claude Miller's "La Petite Lili". This movie is a naturalist drama, where you can only watch "actors playing their parts", and who speak by "mots d'auteurs", trying to reach by them a certain "psychological truth". Furthermore, there're indeed an impression of constant semi-failure in all the scene of the movie, even in the one where a character says so. And, once again, it is not because all this is underlines by the movie itself that it's not true.

But the movie seems better than that and manage to get over all the clichés of a certain french "cinema d'auteur" -with the DV in bonus. Maybe because Proust's shadow, more than Tcheckov, seems to be everywhere in the movie. The writer is directly quote twice in the movie. The firth evocation - more of an invocation by the way - is made by Brice, the conventional director, who, in order to seduce the "jeune fille en fleur" Lili, quotes "Les plaisirs et les jours", where he found "something beautiful about the desire's angst". This sentence, of course, perfectly fits with the preoccupation of Lili, tortured double of Anne Baxter in Mankiewiictz's "All about Eve". Later on, Simon - the great Jean-Pierre Marielle - looking for something to argue with his doctor he can't stand, says to him that his illness comes from intelligence, and therefore, he needs an intelligent doctor to cure him. This sentence is a reminiscence of what's Marcel told to the Doctor Cottar in "In search of lost time". Of course, for it's hard to establish one and only direction for the movie, you can reproach to Miller to use as many cultural references as possible - Tchekhov, Proust, Mankiewicz - in order to satisfied his intellectual spectators. However, the Proust's way goes beyond Lili's "Desire's angst", and of all the characters, and gives birth to strange scenes in the second part of the movie, where the events of the first one, like in Proust's, are lived a second time by memory and artistic creation. It even reminds me of Eustache and the shooting of "La Maman et la putain".Everyone tries to transcend his own flaws, his pitiful routine, his ridiculous past and present to transform them in artistic energy - and especially Lili.

Meanwhile, Simon meets Michel Piccoli, his fictional double - another proustian theme - and strangely walks in a foreign and familiarly stage, the artistic copy of his holiday's house. You can then interprets the movie as an old man's dream, the search of lost time of a man who never lives anything, but who sees himself as an artist through his son. Because it's also in their memories that the characters walks in this second part. They live their life once again, but changed by art, which makes them unrecognizable, and certainly more true than the little family drama they lived four years ago. The movie becomes really good in this repetition, which almost belong to the fantastic, because, as in Proust's, art gives birth to a memory which is more real than art, and life becomes then its own ghost.
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Two Maps
frankgaipa4 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
No character isn't tinged with cliché. Maybe we don't like them, maybe we do like this one or that, but so what? Even the film within a film within, ultimately, a film-in-the-making is clichéd. Or maybe such Chinese boxes have become their own genre. But if you're lucky enough to own the disk, or to hang onto a rental long enough, watch it once just for the edits, the cuts. Early on, in and around the country house, they're so frequent and abrupt they should be dizzying, but they aren't. They're always natural, true either psychologically or mechanically. The camera skips indoors and out almost, though maybe not quite, to the point where you could sketch the layout. An uncertain eye becomes a firm hand. The target of a gaze suddenly becomes the new point of view. Or someone walks into the inanimate focus of a gaze, so cut to somewhere unexpected, this new person's gaze. Point of view shifts so often, so seamlessly, it seems almost to justify me in an argument I not sure I didn't lose once about the viability of film against prose in conveying emotional detail. How difficult is it to shift point of view half a dozen times on a page or even six without degrading the game?

When the whole structure threatens to replay itself toward the finish, it doesn't quite because Julien's chosen a perhaps not very French but not so unlike recent Rohmer sound-stage version of the country house. The cuts still dance, but it's a broken, postmodern dance. The actors, all I think but Julien who's out to direct and Simon, who stumbles about hilariously humbled by the shadow of too calm, too mirror-image Michel Piccoli playing him, move like too-smooth marionettes.

In the end, the film is about the contrast between the opening mise en scène and the closing. It's a glorious suspense film, with no resolution to the question it asks. Can Julien pull it off? I can't recall a more completely realized Miller film.
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The Ruthless Innocent
robert-temple-126 May 2013
Some girls seem to be sweet and loving, as undesigning as lambs, but then they are revealed as ruthlessly ambitious, unfeeling, opportunistic, and ready to betray at the drop of a hat. Such a one is 'little Lily', the sweet local girl who is having an affair with Julien (played by Robinson Stévenin), a young lad whose mother is a French movie star (Nicole Garcia). The main action of the film is set one summer on the Atlantic coast of Brittany, very near to the megalithic ruins of Carnac (which do not appear in the film) and the Bay of Quiberon. The remainder of the story is 'four years later' in Paris. Little Lily is played by the ever-so-sweet Ludivine Sagnier. Such a gentle soul, so loving, so harmless. But aha! The film star mother has a famous film director visiting for the weekend named Brice (suavely played by Bernard Giraudeau), and Lily drops Julien in an instant, seduces Brice, and is off to Paris with him in a trice. (Brice in a trice, geddit?) Pining hopelessly after Julien is the quiet, self-effacing Jeanne-Marie, played by Julie Depardieu (daughter of the famous Russsian actor Gerard Putin). She is very good indeed in her role, with just a whiff of Chekhov about her, which is just as well, as this film is inspired by a Chekhov play called CHAYKA. She was very good in the film LES FEMMES DE L'OMBRE (aka FEMALE AGENTS, 2008, see my review) and has appeared in 70 titles, as many titles as it took men to translate the Septuagint. Ludivine Sagnier is so amazingly talented that one gasps to think of it (and one also gasps to look at her, but that is a different matter). I recently praised her brilliant acting in LOVE CRIME (CRIME D'AMOUR, 2010, see my review) and previously praised her genius in A SECRET (UN SECRET, 2007, see my review) directed by the same master director who made this film, the amazing Claude Miller (pronounced 'Millaire' because he is French). This film is really very subtle and disturbing, as well as intensely satirical. The people play out their drama, and then later they all agree to play themselves in a film in which they re-enact the very same drama four years later. Well, you can't get more ironical than that. And Little Lily begs and schemes and pleads to be allowed to play herself betraying Julien despite the fact that Julien has now become a film director and he is actually directing it. The ironies are so great that they produce enough highly-wrought iron to construct a suspension bridge of emotion, reaching all the from Brittany to Paris. Yes, Monsieur Millaire was having his little joke with his Little Lily, and God knows he may have been having his revenge too, since one readily imagines that he has known at least one, if not ten, Lilies, and perhaps he wanted to rub a few noses in the dung of betrayal, and to expose the hollow nature of fame and the falsity of cinematic illusions. The house by the sea is so marvellous one wants to move in immediately, by the way, for that section of the film was all done on location. How does one make a booking? Can you pay for a week there by buying enough cinema tickets? I do hope so, for after all, why does one watch movies anyway, if not to erase from time to time the borderline between reality and fantasy? In fact, I volunteer to enact the role of Julien anytime, at least in the initial scenes, before he gets dumped. This film really is very intriguing, and if the French only knew how to make decent tea, I would call round one afternoon to pay my respects to this house full of squabbling folk. I'm sure they are all still there coping with their emotions with more or less success.
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Too many clichés, not enough matter
vostf14 June 2003
Except for the character played by Jean-Pierre Marielle everyone involved here has to cope with a cut-and-dried characterization. Sure, there are only good actors but how do you explain that the best role seems to be the one of an aging supporting character with his views on life and mostly tired of arguing with (younger) people?

A flat movie hence, where you see the script for the characters, not the flesh. Not too boring though: there's always a little something that keeps you hoping for something to happen. Then comes the second part: 'Jumping o'er times'. Totally hopeless, with a camera that has strictly nothing to say.

At least actors did their best.
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Very, very talky
MartinHafer26 October 2006
This story is derived from a story by Chekov (not the Star Trek one, by the way) and the movie was very, very, very "talky". And while the quality of the film's production is there (this is why it earns a 5--for acting, direction and cinematography that are just fine), the story itself just seemed dull and lethargic. Plus, I found I really didn't like anyone--the title character seemed like a direction-less nymph, her boyfriend an insufferable "artist" who just needed to grow up, and the rest of the family just seemed like a bunch of phonies I felt no connection to in any way. And everyone just seemed to talk and talk and argue and then talk again! About the only thing going for this film to lift if above mediocrity is the very nude body of the title character in the first minutes of the film--this was tough not to notice (and this makes this movie inappropriate for kids, as well).
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Multiple Reprise
RNQ16 January 2004
Did Chekhov actually have confidence his scenes of unresolved moments would become immortal, such that, for example, in Claude Miller's La petite Lili, The Seagull gets reprised three times or so. The transposition of the amateurism of the original play within the play to a youthful video and then to an elaborate film production is very amusing. And it work nicely to make the original Russians a genially observed group of film business people on holiday in Brittany. In the story of La petite Lili young Emilie Marcucci charms everybody she meets, as Ludivine Sagnier does the viewers of this film. She's a marvel, and the rest of the move is fine too.
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A wonderful film
winter-491 February 2006
The film starts off a little awkwardly. I wasn't quite sure where it was going or if I wanted to go with it, but like all great films it slowly got under my skin. By the second half I was totally engaged and rate it right up there with my favourites.

Like Antonioni's, The Dreamers, this film captures the awkwardness and passion of being young but also offers a reflection on growing older.

This film is not for people looking for typical Hollywood fare. It a classic European film that draws you slowly into these characters lives. The film takes it's time to get where it's going, but when you get there you're glad you went along for the ride.
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Nice adaptation that loses steam
jbels9 October 2003
This adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull starts out promising enough with a good ensemble cast, great art direction and interesting relationships between all the characters, but then it just peters out, especially the final film-production sequence which has absolutely nothing to say. A fair film.
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No Tern Unstoned
writers_reign20 November 2003
I'm still trying to figure out what it is about the French and Classic texts. They love 'fixing' them when they ain't broke as much as they seem to love the originals. In the last five years I've seen on the Paris stage productions of 'Un Tramway nomme Desir' in which the 'flowers for the dead' reference was moved from the beginning to the end; where Blanche and Mitch not only went on a date but were SHOWN in a jazz club complete with a full-length blues performed by a Black singer (not in any production I've ever seen) and, to cap it all, the nurse who accompanies the doctor in the final scene was played by an obvious transvestite wearing drag ('she' was listed as a man in the program) who arm-wrestles Blanche to the floor. This was followed a couple of years later by 'The Glass Menagerie' which begins with a Prologue in which Tom and The Gentleman Caller perform a soft-shoe to Jack Teagarden's recording of 'I'm Confessing'. In the original play the Gentleman Caller appears only at the end but what does Tennessee Williams know. Chekhov gets the same treatment. La Petite Lili is a take on 'The Seagull' and last year I fought to get tickets for an acclaimed production starring a great French actress, Irene Jacob, as Nina. I was slightly bemused BEFORE the play started when the management appeared to play EVERY recording of 'Over The Rainbow' in existence. Then the play began - with Masha performing a raunchy version of 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction' punctuated by swigs from a can of lager (neither the song nor canned beer was available in 19904). Call me square and old fashioned but I prefer the opening line that Chekhov wrote for Masha 'I'm in mourning for my life'. As if that weren't enough from time to time the proceedings ground to a halt as the ensemble broke into 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'. But why am I telling you all this? Because now Claude Miller has put his two cents worth in, updating the story to take account of film and video technology and changing the character's names although leaving their actual roles the same. There's some nice moody photography but when the oldest character on the Lot, the superb Jean Paul Marielle, runs, not walks away with the movie something is badly wrong. All things being equal this should be Nina's movie but given that they cast the ubiquitous Ludivine Sagnier (again at the expense of the far superior Virginie Ledoyan) who is rapidly cornering the market in overripe sexy sluts (think Jennifer Jones in 'Gone to Earth', 'Duel In The Sun', etc), and clearly has her eyes on the gap left by Vanessa Paradis, this was never going to happen. If only someone would get hip that's it's not enough to look as though you go through life wearing slightly soiled underwear and are happy to flaunt your dubious charms and play sex scenes, you also have to be able to ACT, then maybe Sagnier could settle for a career in the French equivalent of the 'Carry On' series and leave the acting to Ledoyan. On the plus side this film is worth seeing if only for a handful of scenes at the end in which Marielle comes face to face on a movie set with Michel Piccoli, playing Marielle on film (don't ask). It seems that when Claude Miller is killing waterfowls he leaves no tern unstoned.
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A movie about a budding movie-maker.
TxMike19 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie for young actress Ludivine Sagnier who plays the title character, Lili, a young girl who happens upon a group vacationing at a summer inn.

The story is mostly about Jean-Pierre Marielle as Simon Marceaux, a passionate and sometimes angry young man who aspires to be a film-maker. His mother Mado has a boyfriend Brice who happens to be a well-known film-maker, but Simon doesn't respect either one of them, because in his eyes they have sold out to commercial interests, making films only to make money.

The movie has one scene of nudity, of Sagnier, during the first 2 minutes. I only mention this because it seems like it was put in just to have a nude scene, although the love making did contribute to the story.

The stay at the inn was tumultuous, and it did lead to Simon writing his script, based on his family, Lili, and others in the interactions that transpired.
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blatant nudity in a movie of words
wvisser-leusden30 March 2009
'La petite Lili' (= French for 'the small Lili') is constructed after a theater-play by the great Russian Anton Chekov. This film moves on slowly, yes, focusing much more on dialogs than on visuals. Allowing its public plenty of time to keep track.

Its setting connects only to well: a film-crowd at leisure, on holidays in the French countryside. In this respect there must be praise for the visuals of a film-part that never gets any praise: the introduction, cleverly putting you in the right holiday-mood.

Right thereafter comes the shock: female lead Ludivine Sagnier is shown blatantly naked. This makes a very strong visual, but not one that fits well in this film's overall setting. However, as 'La petite Lili' has just started, maybe its viewers are not yet aware of its overall setting. Whatever director Claude Miller had in mind, in hindsight one must conclude that his naked Ludivine is too much.

Having survived this out-of-tune whirlwind-start, you can sit down to watch comfortably. 'La petite Lili' provides a well-balanced story, acted out by some very good actors. Just enjoy.
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