Marguerite & Julien: unconvincing, mildly hilarious | Cannes Review

Quite how this ludicrous French incest romp found itself in the main competition at this year's festival is anyone’s guess

Marguerite & Julien
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Director: Valérie Donzelli
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Anais Demoustier, Jeremie Elkaim, Frederic Pierrot, Aurelia Petit, Raoul Fernandez, Sami Frey, Geraldine Chaplin
Running Time: 1 hr 48 mins

Ever wondered what a French incest romp would look like if directed by somebody who had once heard somebody describe a Wes Anderson film, but had never herself set eyes on the director’s work? Of course you have.

That is among the kinder things one could say about this ludicrous period drama that has somehow found itself in the main competition at Cannes. Loosely based on a true story from the 17th century, Valerie Donzelli's Marguerite & Julien details the long boring relationship between a brother and sister whose vague sexual longings for one another eventual reach consummation with unconvincing, mildly hilarious results.

We are among the members of an apparently aristocratic family in some rural part of France. When young, the siblings frolic and gambol in relatively innocent fashion, but adolescence brings separation and eventually scandal. Marguerite is engaged to a reliable individual, but, before the ceremony can take place, she is caught making out with her brother.

The film’s greatest difficulty is the near-supernatural blandness of its stars. In order to sell this class of inappropriate relationship to an audience, you need actors whose soaring charisma partly explains why ancient barriers were broken down. I’m sure Anais Demoustier and Jeremie Elkaim are awfully nice people, but their performances are remarkable only for the way they suck energy from the screen like unprepossessing black holes.


This would be annoying enough without Donzelli’s unconvincingly arch cinematic flourishes. Like Anderson, she favours iris wipes, whacky camera angles and the use of unexpected music cues. Unlike Wes, she demonstrates no aptitude for rhythm or balance. It looks as if a cat walked over the keyboard while the film was being edited. The less said about the ludicrous lurches in period, the soonest confined to the vault of shame.What is this thing doing here?

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist