Directed by Claude Miller
Written by Julien Boivent & Claude Miller
Based on The Seagull by Anton Chekov
La Petite Lili is an adaptation of Chekov’s The Seagull. Originally a play about the struggles of playwrights and actors, it has been updated by changing the playwrights to filmmakers. I have not read The Seagull and was unaware that this was an interpretation of a classic until I read the press notes. The opening credits don’t do much to inform the audience.
The film starts with the young son, Julien, showing a movie he made featuring Lili, a young woman he’s involved with, to his family. His mother Mado, a famous actress, becomes bored with Julien’s “provincial Bergman rip-off” and acts extremely obnoxious so Julien stops the movie and storms off.
He returns for lunch and gets into an argument with his mother and her boyfriend, Brice, who is a director. Julien hates the films Brice makes, calling him a hack. Brice agrees somewhat with Julien’s assessment of the current state of his career and, to Julien’s chagrin, he liked what he saw of Julien’s movie. As Brice continues to talk, Lili becomes infatuated with Brice. After lunch, they go for a walk and she makes her move. They end up running away together, which drives Julien to slit his wrists.
Four years go by and Lili is now a famous actress. She runs across Brice and Mado, who are back together. They tell her Julien is going to be directing a film based on the events of that fateful summer. Lili gets the script and contacts Julien. She regrets what she did and wants to play herself in the movie.
I found La Petite Lili to be a pretentious bore. There’s not much action in the plot. People just stand around talking about love and art, but I was completely detached because most of the characters are vapid, uninteresting and they have no understandable motivation.
Mado acts like a complete ass during her son’s screening. Why? Even if she is right about how boring Julien’s film is, what kind of mother would act so completely unsupportive and insensitive? I also wondered how Brice and Mado got back together after he ran off with Lili? It can’t be just because they’re French and well, these things happen. (Although if that’s the case, I might talk my wife into moving.) I would be much more interested in seeing the discussion that resolved their relationship rather than listen to Julien complain about art. When your family has a lot of money and your problems involve creating art, how much of a problem can you really have and since there’s no depth to the character, how can the audience be expected to care?
What ultimately undermines Julien’s arguments are his own actions during the last act of the story. During the lunch scene, Julien is very brash and hard with Brice, which seems solely motivated by Julien’s jealousy more than any true animosity. Since we never see any of Brice’s work, we only have Julien’s word that he’s a hack, and since he’s an unaccomplished brat, his opinion doesn’t have any worth. What really makes Julien look foolish is that when he shoots his film of the events four years prior, he shoots it almost exactly as it happened so his film comes off like a documentary; he even uses some of the same participants as actors. What happened to his disdain for “people standing around…having literary conversations”? I might buy his transformation if I knew why he gave up on being on the cutting edge. Did he mature? Is he punishing those who hurt him by making them relive it?
The film leaves us with obvious, yet unanswered questions. The filmmakers, both real and fictional, would have been better served to have listened and responded to some of the issues that Julien brought up about art. Rather than waste your time watching this film, you should read The Seagull or go watch seagulls for 90 minutes.