In the extraordinary French film “Ponette,” writer-director Jacques Doillon not only takes us to the fantasy world of children, he takes us there at a time of profound tragedy, showing us how one brave 4-year-old - the mesmerizing Victoire Thivisol, in the title role - copes with the death of her mother.
“Ponette” opens with a shot of this pixieish creature, her wide eyes staring into the distance, her arm in a cast, with a hole for her thumb to pop out of, and for her to suck, which is exactly what she is doing, religiously.
Ponette was in the car when her mother careened off a winding country road.
“Mommy was all broken,” she later tells her two little cousins, who try to console her with their theories about God and heaven and what should go in the coffin alongside Ponette’s mother’s corpse. Ponette’s father struggles to deal with his loss, his anger, and his inability to console his daughter. He takes Ponette to her aunt’s (Claire Nebout) house, where the girl wanders the fields, trying to figure out what has become of her mother - and trying to reconcile all the different things her little cousins, and the adults, have told her about what happens when somebody dies. And how they might return.
The kids’ comments - many of them taken from interviews Doillon did in preschools around France - are funny and incredibly poignant.
Utterly guileless and unself-conscious, Thivisol gives a performance that is as pure as it is moving.
“Ponette” travels to some amazing places. Its ending, in its own haunting way, is as audacious as Lars Von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves.” It feels like a privilege to have been along for the ride.
xxxx “Ponette” Location: Lincoln Heights Credits: Written and directed by Jacques Doillon, starring Victoire Thivisol, Xavier Beauvois, Claire Nebout Running time: 1:37 Rating: Not rated In French with subtitles.