Reflections on "Oui, mais..." ,
written and directed by Yves Lavandier,
starring Emilie Dequenne and Gerard Jugnot (2001)
"Oui, mais..." touches on some very interesting and relevant themes concerning relationships, society and the problems individuals may have in adapting to circumstances, and responsibility.
While recounting the story of Eglantine Laville (Emilie Dequenne), her disputes with her parents and her difficulties in the field of romance and sexuality, writer and director Yves Lavandier uses psychologist Erwann Moenner (Gerard Jugnot) to share insights on the nature and complexities of relationships, social security at the expense of ambition and fulfilment, and the need to recognise responsibility in others as well as in oneself - all relevant not only to adolescents but also to most members of society!
When Eglantine approaches Moenner for a brief therapy she reveals much about her parents and their relationships with her, one another and others. Through this context we are invited to consider relationships in more general terms and in particular the ways in which individuals try to manipulate and exercise control over others.
We are invited to increase our awareness of our manipulation of others for our own ends. This may be achieved through encouragement, guilt, sympathy or playing on a sense of obligation in order to gain proof of love or affection, prove superiority or simply to have something done for us. However, the point of the "game" is to achieve this not by direct means or clear expression of desire, but rather to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of others so that the initiative appears to come from them, thus avoiding responsibility or even guilt.
In analysing the relationship between Eglantine's parents, Moenner points out that habit, tradition and acceptance of circumstances offer comfort and stability (though perhaps not happiness) possibly at the expense of change, development and evolution. He appears to suggest we often "settle" for circumstances through fear of the unknown or fear of failure.
Eglantine's mother (Denise) manipulates and pressurises her to stay with her (she provides a source of stability, comfort and affection within a dying marriage), but Eglantine wishes to exercise her desire for freedom and experience life for herself. This situation embodies the themes of manipulation and habit, and incorporates another essential theme - that of responsibility.
By way of Moenner's analysis, Eglantine comes to realise (along with the audience)that the burden of responsibility needs to be reviewed so that individuals take responsibility for their own acts, decisions and circumstances - although others may have contributed to circumstances, their thoughts and desires need not be taken entirely into account, and ultimately the individual must accept responsibility for their own deeds and choices within their circumstances.
Thus, manipulation may have no effect if responsibility is not to be shared, and habit and acceptance of circumstance may be viewed as the individual's failure to take control and change those circumstances if they are unhappy.
In the end, Eglantine learns to stand up for herself vis-a-vis her mother (who, at the end of the film, refers to her daughter as "ma grande fille" as opposed to "ma petite fille" in the course of the film in recognition of her personal growth and development). She has broken free from the emotional restraints imposed by her mother and is free to lead her own life and make her own mistakes.
A hugely important element of the film is Eglantine's relationship with boyfriend Sebastien (Cyrille Thouvenin). This relationship is clearly intended to illustrate manipulation (as dominance transfers from Sebastien to Eglantine) and responsibility (as Sebastien grows to love rather than just lust after Eglantine), but I fear this whole sub-plot is less successful than her dealings with her family as their motivations and reasons for attachment remain fairly unclear throughout. We witness Eglantine's attempts to assert herself and grow as a person, but these are somewhat unconvincing. Curiously, the film becomes less cogent in its dealings with other adolescents who appear to act on impulse and with little logic or reason (and as such may be representative of adolescent behaviour), yet the whole centres on applying understanding and control.
Eglantine's parents are somewhat exaggerated (they tend to be one-sided and lack sympathy), but they serve their purpose as an illustration of the relationship problems teenagers might have with their parents. Eglantine's mother requires greater depth and colour in order to be sympathetic or even tragic rather than just pathetic, while her father is barely fleshed out and really just serves to furnish problems for Eglantine and her mother.
At the beginning of the film, the psychologist Moenner is more or less presented as the principal character who explains various psychological principles and theories directly to camera, offering amusing visual examples to make his points, and Eglantine's story is clearly to be an illustration of the application of these psychological theories and methods. However, this interesting, engaging and light-hearted technique is abandoned in the course of the film and Moenner becomes more of a conduit for psychological theories providing useful explanations and guiding our understanding rather than a fleshed out character in himself.
Eglantine becomes the main character, and indeed the film ends with a shot of her looking more at ease with herself and more self-assured and mature. Although Moenner shares a knowing glance at the camera in his final scene, it might have been more in keeping with the style and tone of the start of the film (and I rather regret that this could not have been maintained) if Moenner had once again addressed the audience and provided some words of wisdom in summary.
Altogether, I enjoyed this film and I felt it imparted themes and thoughts that are important for personal development and growth (at any stage of life), but I can't help but feel it rather lost its way when exploring Eglantine's attempts to "find herself" and assert herself with her boyfriend, and the script appeared much more assured when dealing with family relationships and problems.
My thanks for taking the time to read this page - I hope you found it of some interest.
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