Weekly French Film: Don't Worry I'm Fine

Brooke DiGia - October 30, 2016

Lili Tellier receives postcards from her twin brother, Loïc, as he wanders from city to city after having left during a heated argument with their parents. At the end of each postcard is the phrase, “Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas,” (don’t worry I’m fine) which colors the film with a moving irony. Lili’s struggles, punctuated by such blasé reassurances, show her to be far from fine.

Je Vais Bien, Ne T’En Fais Pas focuses on Lili’s battle to find stability as her surroundings are upheaved. Upon arriving home from a month abroad in Spain, she discovers that Loïc has disappeared and her parents are alarmingly content to do nothing. Loïc’s strained relationship with his father, who was against his aspirations to be a guitarist, looms over the family dynamic. Unable to cope with this sudden unrest, Lili develops an eating disorder and is committed to a psychiatric facility. Though she ostensibly recovers, her subtle but difficult relationship with food becomes another metaphor for the tumult she experiences.

On top of her medical and familial struggles, Lili’s future seems stunted in her job as a cashier at a local supermarket. The threat of a mediocre future is emphasized by the presence of her friend Léa, who also works at the supermarket but attends the prestigious SciencesPo, and her parents’ pleas for her to return to university.

Je Vais Bien, Ne T’En Fais Pas excels in its portrayal of slice-of-life turmoil. Though dramatic, these hardships could strike any young adult. Taking place in the banal setting of a French suburb, the film grounds itself in a realism with genuine insights into young adulthood.

While watching her performance, one can understand immediately why this was Melanie Laurent’s breakout role. As Lili, she communicates a woman quietly wrestling with the uncertainty of her life and the lives of those she cares about, namely Loïc. Laurent is subtle and careful in choosing which expressions will cross her face. Her performance embodies the film’s larger depiction of people suppressing tragedy for fear of letting it disturb the comfort of normalcy.

Kad Merad is another stand-out performance, having received the César for Best Supporting Actor. As the stoic father who insisted Loïc pursue more “practical” work than playing guitar, Merad reveals a profound guilt as the film progresses. His performance captures the essence of suburban fathers who worked too much and cherished their children too little.

Philippe Lioret, the director, paced this film well. Loïc’s disappearance is the dramatic foundation the film relies upon, but Lioret allows other stories ample time to develop. Though the Parisian suburb is the epicenter of the film’s plot, other locations are explored well, reminding the audience that life exists beyond rows of identical houses. In typical French cinema style, he leaves the audience with un fin ouvert that avoids neatly closing the plot and thereby mistreating the adversity of young adulthood.

Though the film succeeds on nearly all fronts, it has some flaws. When first introduced, Lili’s eating disorder seems as though it will be the crux of the film. Once she recovers, however, infrequent reminders of what happened are the only plot points that come back to it. Understanding how serious the issue of eating disorders is, the film gives more attention to hers.

Nonetheless, Je Vais Bien, Ne T’En Fais Pas is an excellent film to watch if you are looking for the character-driven cinema too often lacking in the American industry. Its intricate performances, confident direction, and cultural awareness make it worthwhile.

Brooke DiGia

Brooke DiGia is a freshman who is currently undecided by considering a major in either English or physics and a minor in French studies. When not planted in front of her laptop doing schoolwork, she can be seen playing on the tennis court, writing film criticism and poetry, and enjoying time with her friends. Brooke is also a member of the writing staff of Bloomers and the Penn Club Tennis team. She can’t decide on her favorite film, but the ones she keeps coming back too include World of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Ex Machina. Her favorite television shows are Parks & Recreation and Avatar: The Last Airbender.