Seaside | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


À la mode

Julie Lopes-Curval's Seaside takes place in the kind of French provincial beach town where middle-class people go to spend the summers while their elders stay home alone in Paris to roast and die. But in this lackluster town, native tourism is hardly a money-maker, and the locals barely seem to care.

The town's only industry is at once a sea-pebble quarry and the film's central metaphor, a place where managers glare officiously through glass at proles who collect stones from the sea and sort them on an assembly line. The ones worth keeping go through the refinery. The rest get thrown back into the sea, where erosion might make them more acceptable the next time someone harvests them. Seaside opens in summer, when tranquility gradually erodes. Next spring, lives begin to take new shape, and by the following summer, all have returned to their halcyon daze.

Marie works in the factory, lives with supermarket clerk-cum-lifeguard Paul, and has a flirtation with her boss, Albert, whose late father once owned the factory, and whose mother, Odette, sold the foundering place after her husband's death. Paul's 60-ish mother Rose -- a retired factory worker, estranged in her old friendship with Odette, a laborer herself until she married the owner -- is a gambling addict who loses her home to the quarter slots in the town's casino.

The visitors on summer holiday are fashion photographer Pierre, his willowy (soon pregnant) partner, and his too-young-to-be-a-grandma mother, all of whom lounge, chat and read by their "bathing huts," a row of tidy little shanties where you change into your trunks and set up your beach chairs.

Seaside drifts along with a familiar Gallic everydayness and left-of-center politics, like late Eric Rohmer tinged with mid-Godard and a hint '70s working-class French cinema. You can't really discern any strong feminist tendencies in Lopes-Curval's work: She's equally critical of everyone, but finally only mildly so. If anything, she's more of a socialist. "We're not colleagues," Marie tells Albert after one of his furtive advances. "We don't get the same pay." And when Albert complains about how nobody cares that his family had to sell its business to a corporation, she replies to his whining with, "A boss is a boss."

Lopes-Curval moves her drama along with the busy ennui of French life. During the second summer passage, a bit of excitement hits town in the form of a shark, which clears the water and evokes the weighty observation, "When you can't see things, your imagination runs wild." So it goes for the melancholy residents of Seaside, who at least have the good sense to leave the water and wait out the danger. In French, with subtitles.

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