Review by Claudia Catalli
Thursday 3 November 2022
A middle-aged woman, with a twenty-five-year marriage behind her and a life that is always the same would have her destiny sealed in Italian cinema, and in all likelihood she would be anything but the protagonist. The French Lauriane Escaffre and Yvonnick Muller instead choose Karin Viard, already applauded in The Belier family, to entrust her with the complex role of Maria, a cleaning lady with extraordinary sensitivity. Passionate about writing, we meet her at a client’s house, in the middle of a wake, waiting for a reassignment. They will send her to the School of Fine Arts in Paris, a universe completely unknown to her. She will have to learn that there are bizarre works of art (like butter, not tossed in the trash) and that there are creative students she can help. How? Through her hands, her know-how, but also her body.
It is thanks to the School that Maria begins to discover her body, in every sense: she relives and rediscovers her femininity by posing as a nude model, obviously without saying anything at home, because she knows that her husband would not understand. Yet within the walls of the school Maria will discover unimaginable stimuli, she will learn to dare and finally feel free.
He will do so also thanks to Hubert, a fundamental piece of the process of evolution and rediscovery of Mary. To interpret him there is an actor of depth and experience, Gregory Gadebois, who skilfully takes on the role of the school caretaker. A nice guy, affable and mentally open, yet not physically free, since he has never really moved from “his” School of him. The meeting between the two is fatal, it creates a special bond made above all of the desire to go beyond one’s limits and look beyond. Beyond social conventions and job positions, beyond age and what has already been done, beyond all self-imposed limits, or perhaps imposed by a life as a couple that is no longer satisfying.
The rediscovery of oneself is a creative process, Lauriane Escaffre and Yvonnick Muller seem to want to say with this film, based on the personal life story of the former, or rather of her grandmother. She too is a cleaning lady, a job that in the cinema is often associated with stories of social hardship or invisibility and which this time becomes a springboard for the redemption of a life.
The result is an enthralling story of transformation and inner journey, of encounter and confrontation with art but also with the other. A universal story too, just as the desire to discover oneself, to give oneself another chance, to emancipate oneself and to nourish one’s soul with art and fulfilling relationships is universal.
Although not particularly outstanding for originality, Mary and love it turns out to be a graceful and enjoyable portrait of a woman determined to regain possession of her desires, a useful and convincing metaphor to suggest to the viewer that it is never too late to be happy and, even earlier, to understand who one really is. Or who you want to become, even when you’re already “grown up”.
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