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Martha . . . Martha

Martha . . . Martha revisits many of the themes of Sandrine Veysset’s previous work, and in particular her first feature, Will It Snow for Christmas?: deeply damaged families living on the poverty line, a mother with suicidal tendencies and, more generally, the pervasive undercurrent of emotional violence coursing through mundane everyday lives. Martha (Valerie Donzelli) scrapes together a meagre living in a drab French provincial town selling second-hand clothes at street markets together with her long-term boyfriend, Reymond (Yann Goven), and their six-year-old daughter, Lise (Lucie Regnier). It is quickly apparent that all is not well when Martha visits her parents and her mother barely acknowledges her. Compulsively dissatisfied and restless, Martha descends unannounced upon her sister, who now basks in an expensive hacienda in Spain. She is no more delighted to see Martha and her family than their mother was, and the visit ends in disaster and mutual recriminations after hints at traumatic events from the women’s childhood years.
Veysset shows relentlessly how family trauma is passed down through the generations, and the young Regnier is extraordinary as a bright, loving child who we see becoming more and more disturbed as the result of her frightening experiences. Donzelli consistently burns up the screen as Martha, a woman who is profoundly volatile, self-centred and often downright scary, but also affectionate and vibrant in her better moments.
France, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 97 min.

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