Hannah Strong


The Balconettes – first-look review

Noémie Merlant's sophomore feature, co-written by Celine Sciamma, is a riotous black comedy set on the hottest day of the year in Marseilles.

Hot weather does strange things to people, and the residents of a Marseilles apartment block are no exception in Noémie Merlant’s sophomore feature, co-written with Céline Sciamma. Life moves at a different pace on the hottest day of the year; old men drape themselves over their windowsills, smoking cigarettes with sweating bottles of beer in hand. Children whine uselessly about the heat. A woman finally takes a stand against her brute of a husband. And Nicole (Sanda Codreanu), a shy writer, lusts after the stranger in the flat opposite, who she can see from her balcony.

Meanwhile, her gregarious, free-spirited roommate Ruby (Souheila Yacoub) has no such reservations. She’s a polyamorous cam-girl who couldn’t be more different from Nicole, but the pair are firm friends despite their contrasting personalities, and they’re soon joined by their friend Élise (Noémie Merlant), a flighty actress trying to hide from her overbearing husband Paul (Christophe Montenez). With the heat and women’s giddiness reaching a fever pitch, they end up across the street at the apartment of Nicole’s crush, who turns out to be the rakish photographer Magnani (Lucas Bravo). But an act of sexual violence against Ruby leads the three into a situation none of them could have predicted, whereby they suddenly have to dispose of a dead body and clean up a murder scene.

It’s certainly a timely film, given France’s recent localised #MeToo movement, and the central trio are incredibly vivacious and compelling as their situation becomes ever more perilous. There’s something cathartic about several truly vile men violently getting their just desserts – for once justice is served, when the reality is, most of the time victims of sexual violence never get that luxury. But a gimmicky supernatural element somewhat undermines the more serious message, and there’s a sense that the film could have perhaps been kept to a tight 90 minutes, as it runs out of steam in the back half.

Published 24 May 2024

Tags: Noémie Merlant The Balconettes

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