Oui, mais…

If you’re asked whether you want to improve yourself, you’ll certainly agree. But are people truly willing to change? Are we ready to give up all opportunities to complain? Because face it, people like to bitch. When’s the last time you heard someone tell you that “the boss is fair,” “mom’s a peach,” “teachers are interesting”? No, it’s always “this guy’s a jerk,” “I can’t stand her,” “they make my life hell”… “Oui, mais…” (which translates as “Yes, but…”) is about allowing change into your life and stopping to make excuses. Or in the words of writer-director Yves Lavandier, about “a world fascinated by omnipotence (financial, political, even criminal) that must learn to deal with tenderness and personal responsibility.” Or if you want to reduce it in the crudest, it’s about a girl trying to free herself from her mom’s guilt-trips to be able to get off in bed!

The film opens like a fairy tale, with gorgeous establishing shots and schmaltzy music, then it introduces its on-screen narrator, a wise and sympathetic therapist played by Gérard Jugnot. Right there, the irreverent but empathic tone and the episodic storytelling remind of Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, but before long “Oui, mais…” reveals to be ten times wittier and more involving. We meet Églantine (Émilie Dequenne), a high school girl torn between her father who’s never there, her heinously manipulative mother and her insensitive boyfriend who’s trying to push her into sleeping with him. It becomes so confusing for her that she decides to go see a therapist (Jugnot’s character, naturally). After all, “You don’t have to be sick to heal.”

Lavandier says he was fed up with how “shrinks in movies are always clowns or psychopaths. One of the worst villains in film history is Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist. That tells you a lot about people’s perceptions of therapists, even though those I know are more like (Jugnot’s character) than Lecter!” Lavandier’s film thus presents us with a therapist who’s not only a nice guy but who genuinely helps the young girl, making him a pivotal figure. I feared that this would become didactic self-help guru hogwash, but Jugnot’s advice is insightful and not condescending. Furthermore, it’s surprising how much back and forth eventually occurs between him and his client. He might help her along the way, but to a large degree Églantine is helping herself.

This is only Émilie Dequenne’s third picture (after “Rosetta”, which won her the acting prize at Cannes in ’99, and Le Pacte des loups, in which she played Marianne), but she’s already establishing herself as an absolutely wonderful actress. She gives a layered, always convincing, very touching performance. It’s delightful to witness how she goes from wilting flower to a self-assured young woman. “Oui, mais…” is a great film that unfortunately seems to be falling through the cracks, having been only a modest success in France and having yet to score a North American distributor. That’s a pity, because it’s full of truth and humor and it features one of the best lovemaking scenes I’ve ever seen.

UPDATED! Feedback from the director!

I received this e-mail from Yves Lavignier:

Cher Kevin,

J’ai lu votre papier (que Maidy et Colette m’ont transmis hier) et je suis ravi d’avoir l’opportunité de vous en remercier. Ca m’a fait chaud au coeur. Et ça peut en effet nous aider à trouver un distributeur. Je me permettrai de vous tenir au courant.

Encore merci.


This basically says that he read my review, that it warmed his heart and might help in finding a distributor.

I certainly hope so! “Oui, mais…” is one of the very best films I’ve seen all year.