In today’s society, it’s essentially fact that double standards in regards to gender exist. When a man is resistant to settling down, inclined to live a hedonistic “playboy” lifestyle, he may not be respected for it, but at worst, he’s the victim of a few eye rolls. When a woman is living the same lifestyle of a perpetual Peter Pan, her antics are revolting and sadly pitiful to onlookers. Party Girl’s Angélique is a sixty-year-old bar hostess living in Lorraine (a rough region of France often ignored in film), and she loves to party. With a monroe piercing above her lip and a teenager’s raccoon-eyed makeup, she evidently has no concept of what others will see as age-appropriate for her, and it’s surely because she’s in denial that she’s… getting old. She’s desperate to believe that she is still a skilled seducer of men.
Party Girl is a distant cousin in the vein of cinéma vérité (influenced by John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, and Barbara Loden’s Wanda – another film set in a tired, rural mining town): a film shot with no rigid script, but with scenarios extensively discussed between its cast and three directors, so as to avoid the stumbling block that a restrictive screenplay would have been for the film’s non-professional actors. The project is very personal for its three directors – Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger, and Samuel Theis – whose professional relationship working on the film continues a deep friendship they had before shooting. It is also a case of art reflecting reality: the concept of the film is loosely based on Angélique’s real-life decision to get married in her twilight, and Angélique’s four children (Mario, Séverine, Cynthia, and director Samuel) play her children in the film.
After she has spent years working in a seedy bar, one of Angélique’s regulars proposes marriage. It’s a startling phenomenon for her: she’s so accustomed to the life she has been living, that one gets the impression this is something that she has not considered for quite some time. Though never really reciprocating the intensity of Michel’s adoration for her, it is in Angélique’s wheelhouse to string men along, so she agrees to his proposal, and over time, becomes more comfortable with it. Still, Angélique is never happy without the attention of other men. Even once engaged to Michel, whenever the two of them go out together, she makes no effort to hide her quest for the validation of younger men. Although angered by her disrespect, he’s so swept away in his infatuation that he never challenges her for it. Before long, she is back at the bars, searching for trysts. Because she is so insecure about aging, she has a fatalistic need to be desired by someone that she perceives as out of her league, to prove to herself that she has worth. As she tells a young man that he should order a bottle of wine to take to a rented room, he laughs at her, quick to let her know that she is lucky he would even consider her for a hookup, and that she would only be a temporary slave for his pleasure. Devastated by this humiliation, she tries to refocus, and tries to convince herself that she can be happy with Michel.
As her wedding approaches, she suddenly experiences doubt that this is the right choice, because if she is honest with herself, she knows that she is not really in love with this man. When she tries to voice this fear the day before her wedding, her son assures her that this is a great thing that has happened to her, and how proud their family is that she is “finally getting her life together”. This affirmation convinces her to follow through with the marriage, but once she says her vows, she knows it was a mistake, and crushes Michel when she chooses to leave him almost immediately after.
In an explosive coda where her trajectory dissolves into a montage set to the apt lyrics of Chinawoman’s “Party Girl”, a disenchanted Angélique slinks back into her old behavioural patterns, living her Party Girl life, and once again attempting to pick up men who are probably too young to take a serious interest in her. In this segment of the film Angélique Litzenburger’s unpolished but raw acting achieves its best form: apparently the personal resonance takes her to this peak. It is depressing to realize that even after she decides not to settle for a marriage which makes her unhappy, she is worse off than she was to begin with.
Begging the question of whether or not someone is able to change qualities that are part of the fabric of their identity, Party Girl provides some good demonstrations of how societal pressures can influence one for better or worse. It’s fairly accomplished as a first feature, and was a great opener for Un certain régard at Cannes: neither entirely earth-shattering nor completely disappointing, it is energetic enough to help start the screening of this sidebar with some momentum.