MY FRIEND VICTORIA, drama, not rated, in French with subtitles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
My Friend Victoria is the kind of film you wish would get made more often, showing interracial France in a way that is matter-of-fact rather than brutal or sentimentalized. The film tells a very human story, which swells into a haunting political statement.
What carries the film is the quiet dignity of Victoria (Guslagie Malanga). Victoria, a black girl who is being raised by her aunt, spends a night at the lavish apartment of a white classmate’s socialist family, the Savinets. That night, she feels protected by the older son, Edouard (Alexis Loret), and the connection stays with her; she walks by their building when she can and thus watches the two Savinet brothers grow up. After Victoria’s aunt dies, a church member, Diouma (Elise Akaba) and her daughter, Fanny (Nadia Moussa), take Victoria in. Jean-Paul Civeyrac directs this film, which is based on a short story by Doris Lessing, in the classic French tradition of showing a film’s narrator writing in a diary and then continuing the film in voice-over narration (see Diary of a Country Priest, 1951). There’s almost a sub-genre of French movies (The Intouchables, 2011) about the charming/complex friendship between white and black characters. So it’s refreshing here to have a black woman, Fanny, narrate the story of another black woman, Victoria.
As a young woman, Victoria works at a record store where she runs into her old classmate Thomas Savinet (Pierre Andrau). They have a summer relationship before he leaves for the U.S. After Thomas has left, Victoria finds out she is pregnant and wants to keep the baby. This is an episodic film: Victoria has her daughter, Marie (Maylina Diagne), and then she gets married to a black man and has a baby boy. A few years later, Victoria decides to tell Thomas about the existence of their biracial child. The Savinet family’s reaction is initially awkward, even humiliating: The older brother Edouard, whom Victoria once admired, is now a world-weary newspaper columnist who insists on a paternity test. After the wrinkles are smoothed over, however, the family absorbs seven-year-old Marie into the clan with something approximating glee. Marie brings the Savinets all together and makes them a family again. Victoria wonders if she is losing her daughter and senses that her black son won’t have the opportunities that are now offered to Marie.
Fanny’s brother says that “in France we have blacks, in America they have Barack Obama.” France has, unfortunately, lagged behind in integrating its immigrant population, so much so that this year, even Syrian refugees largely avoided France. Will France ever welcome its immigrants with anywhere near as much warmth as the Savinet family shows Marie? This heartwarming film does not broach tough questions — though the story could have handled more complexity — but it does move the discussion of race and class in the right direction.
Support system: Nadia Moussa, Maylina Diagne, and Guslagie Malanga