Film Review: Spring Blossom (Seize printemps)
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Having read about Suzanne Lindon's Spring Blossom (Seize printemps) when it appeared at Cannes and Toronto International Film Festival last year, I was pleased to see it would headline the Closing Gala for this year's virtual edition of the Glasgow Film Festival. While I've missed in-person festivals and events - particularly the cinema experience - one pleasant side-effect of lockdown (if you can call it that) has been the ability to attend a number of festivals virtually that I might otherwise have missed.
As the offspring of two acclaimed French actors, Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain, there was always going to be some buzz around this debut feature from writer, director, and star, Suzanne Lindon. I first saw Sandrine Kiberlain many years ago in the lighthearted romantic comedy, Après vous, and - with apologies to Julie Delpy and La Binoche - she quickly became my favourite French actress. I saw her again in Elle l'adore, in which she played the obsessed fan of a popular singer, before seeing her once more in Mademoiselle Chambon, where I encountered Vincent Lindon (her real life partner) for the first time.
It's not necessarily fair to hold someone to such lofty standards, but nonetheless I had high hopes for Spring Blossom, and I'm pleased to say it lived up to my expectations. It was a bold and, frankly, spot-on move to have this close out the Glasgow Film Festival, as it put the focus on the future of a cinema with a visionary young filmmaker who had navigated their way through non-traditional funding and production methods to bring their film to life. This was touched on in the Q&A between Suzanne Lindon and GFF Co-Director, Allison Gardner which followed after the film, and it was fascinating to learn more about how it all came to be.
For those not aware of the plot, Spring Blossom is a fresh take on the coming-of-age tale about a sixteen year old girl, who has grown bored with her friends and school, and develops a relationship with an older man. On the surface that may sound pretty cringe-worthy, and a lot of reviewers were sadly turned off (without watching) for that very reason, but it's deftly handled by Lindon who provides the feminine point of view and imbues her character with a real sense of agency. This isn't viewed through the lens of the male gaze, or by someone trying to remember (imagine?) what it was like to be young; it was written by Lindon when she was fifteen years old, and revisited when she came to make the film at nineteen. She's lived through this period and come out the other side.
Aside from how sensitively she deals with her own character, I was particularly impressed with the way she handled the man's side of the story. In much the same way as Suzanne, Raphael has become bored with his job and the circles in which he moves. As an actor at the local theatre, he's lost interest in his current production and doesn't want to spend time with the other people in his troupe. Although she instigates things through longing looks and just generally hanging around, it's that recognition of their shared ennui which eventually brings them together.
I don't like to compare, as it can seem reductive or dismissive - except where the film is genuinely derivative - but Spring Blossom reminded me a lot of After The Rain, a popular Japanese anime which was based on a manga series and later turned into a live-action film. After The Rain tells the story of high school student, Akira Tachibana, who falls in love with her middle-aged manager at the local family restaurant where she works part-time. Like Spring Blossom, both characters are at a crossroads in their lives, and it's this recognition which brings them together for a time.
In both instances the relationships are quite chaste - innocent, even - and based more on a shared feeling than some sordid love affair. I think this is something we all experience at various stages throughout our lives, which is another reason why Spring Blossom comes across as so relatable. There are often chances for people to enrich each other's lives and truly learn from one another, and this is simply one of them. Listening to her talk about the film, Lindon explains that she was aiming for something both timeless and universal, which is why there's no overt references to cell phones, computers or anything that might obviously date it.
It also reminded me a little of Sofia Coppola's critical darling, Lost In Translation, which told a similar story of two lost souls finding brief comfort in one other as they face an uncertain future, and that's a fair comparison considering Coppola's own showbiz pedigree. I'm sure there's some degree of that at play, since Lindon obviously has a classical film education, but there's enough in Spring Blossom to make it something uniquely its own. Nothing is random or out of place, and it seems as though every decision was made with a view to enhancing or expanding the film. From the music to the wardrobe to the cinematography, everything is carefully crafted and curated in service to the greater good.
One of the most beautiful touches is the use of dance as a form of expression. It first appears as something quite personal, when Suzanne dances down the street on her way home after talking with Raphael - perfectly capturing her youthful exuberance and that feeling when you've found something to break through the boredom - and it becomes symbolic of their burgeoning relationship as the film progresses. Although the pair (thankfully) never kiss or tumble into bed together, their intimacy is expressed through dance - a very direct and physical connection. One morning, the two meet for breakfast at the cafe across from the theatre, where Raphael gives Suzanne his headphones and plays her a song while the two of them move in perfect unison, oblivious to the world around them.
It's obvious that Lindon has had some kind of dance training, and she says it was her dance teacher who choreographed those (and later) dance scenes. Her inspiration came from German dancer and choreographer, Pina Bausch, whose work influenced the design of David Bowie's Glass Spider Tour, and was the subject of Wim Wenders' documentary, Pina, in 2011. Those dance sequences had not been in the original script but, like the soundtrack, they became an integral part of the final picture.
Aside from dancing, there are many other wonderful motifs that appear throughout the film. One I particularly enjoyed was the recurrence of Suzanne's signature drink, the Grenadine Diabolo, which you first see her drinking at the start of the film. That drink, and the scene in which it is introduced, perfectly straddle the line between youth and adulthood. She wants something more sophisticated than a basic soda, so she opts for a classic mocktail, but then you see her playing with the straw and using it to 'draw' on the pristine white tablecloth. I could speak more about the wardrobe choices and production design, or the wonderful cinematography by Jérémie Attard, but we'd be here all day.
Instead, I'll single out one of the other key elements, which also came to the production late, and that is the music. Like everything else, there is no song here that seems out of place, and I found myself looking up the ones I didn't already know, so I could add them to my library afterwards. From Vivaldi's Stabat Mater, which the pair listen to in the cafe, to their final slow dance to French pop star Christophe's La Dolce Vita, everything is curated to perfection. I was surprised to learn that Lindon was "discovering the music as [she] was discovering the film [she] was editing."
I've not mentioned him by name so far, but Arnaud Valois does an admirable job of bringing the object of her affections to life. It's a difficult role as a lot of the audience will pre-judge and be resistant to him, but Raphael slowly wins you over as you get a (literal) glimpse behind the curtain of his life. Valois needs to show his interest in Suzanne and her journey into womanhood without seeming too creepy about it, and it's a very fine line to tread. Equally impressive are her on-screen parents, Florence Viala (who also starred in Elle l'adore) and Frédéric Pierrot, who have such a wonderful, natural relationship with their daughters. Pierrot, in particular, calls to mind a less verbose version of Elio's father (as played by Michael Stuhlbarg) in Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name.
When asked about her parents, and the film in general, Lindon said she wanted to paint a portrait of a young woman whose life is fine, but is going through these feelings of boredom and unrest. It's not always about teenagers coming from difficult backgrounds or having parents who don't understand. She says it reflects her own experiences and, although the film is not directly autobiographical, it does borrow elements from her life. Seeing these kind of role models, in terms of both the parents and the children, is a really refreshing and positive change. That's not to say those other stories aren't valid - they really are - but being able to see that this is something everyone goes through, regardless of their upbringing, makes for something different.
One thing I didn't mention (and usually do) is the translation of the film's title, which is something I always enjoy exploring. Although Spring Blossom works perfectly well - especially in the way it captures the idea of some feelings or people just being there for a season - I really like the literal translation of the French title, Seize printemps, which is Sixteen Spring. To me that sounds like an Eric Rohmer-esque title, and evokes the influence the director's work has admittedly had on her. Aside from Rohmer, Lindon also names Sidney Lumet's Running On Empty as another specific influence, especially when it comes to her on-screen family.
Clocking in at 73 minutes, Spring Blossom is a relatively short film, but each moment is fully realised, with barely a word or scene out of place. It's an incredible achievement, and particularly remarkable when you consider it's her first film. To say I enjoyed Spring Blossom would be an understatement, and it's a film I look forward to revisiting again when some time has passed. Interestingly enough, it's a sentiment Lindon herself shares, as she says: "I think that in 10 years I will be capable of knowing what I did. I don't know what I did. It's still something I don't really understand."
As a side note, I was pleased to see that Lindon also contributed the title song to the film's soundtrack, in conjunction with Vincent Delerm who wrote the film's original score based purely on her description of the film. It reminded me a lot of her mother, who released a couple of great albums in the early 2000s (one of which was tied to Après vous) that were jokingly referenced during her appearance on Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent) in Season 4. Between singing, dancing, writing, directing, and acting, it seems that Suzanne Lindon is far more than a triple-threat.