In the opening moments of the French film L’Autre (which translates to “The Other”), main character Marie (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) is dancing. Soon though, after her father’s sudden death in a terrible accident, she gives up on dance, just like she gives up on almost everything else in her life. What follows is difficult to describe. In certain ways it’s a meditation on grief, but it also explores how people embody different identities, not all of which are healthy. L’Autre explores these ideas in an impressionistic style that will baffle some viewers and intrigue others.
The Marie we meet at the start of the film is young and delicate. While she seems cut off from everyone, she frequently sees visions of her father (Jean-Louis Martinelli), though he never speaks. Sometimes she follows him, sometimes she observes him, and often she reads the writings in his journal. Is Marie imagining her father, dreaming about him, remembering him? It’s only sporadically clear, but it appears her grief over losing him never quite leaves her.
Marie has few people in her life, so it’s a surprise when she meets an older woman (Anouk Grinberg) who looks very similar to her at a cafe. Initially, it seems she may be Marie’s mother or older sister, but the movie eventually makes it apparent that this is, in fact, Marie herself, perhaps 20 years after her father’s death. It’s Marie’s attachment to Paul, a photographer, that explains the connection between these two versions of Marie. On the day of his death, Marie’s father booked a session for her with Paul, and after he passes away, Paul (James Thierrée) is the only person Marie proactively seeks out.
Based on his interactions with both the younger and older versions of Marie it seems the pair start a long-lasting relationship that serves as something of an anchor for Marie. Yet, for the older version of Marie, the younger version comes to embody her deep-seated sadness, which she never completely shakes off following her father’s passing. In order to truly live, Marie must lock away this part of her personality.
While this may make L’Autre’s story sound fairly concrete, the film is far from straightforward in its presentation. As written and directed by Charlotte Dauphin, the film bounces between fantasy, reality, dreams and memory, the timeline jumps forward and backward, and scenes and moments are often repeated. This gives the film a languid, hypnotic quality. However, even as the repetition emphasizes certain parts of the film, making them seem important, the lack of context makes it hard to understand why these moments are meaningful, which can be frustrating.
L’Autre is the kind of film that makes you work to understand it. This can be rewarding in its own right, although it also takes away from some of the deep emotional resonance that it achieves in its earliest scenes. Nonetheless, if you can get on its wavelength and open yourself up to its abstract, expressive approach to its story, it will keep you absorbed from beginning to end.