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Can the French go 'Back to the Future'?

New York Film Festival

October 04, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • A scene from the French movie "Camille Rewinds"
A scene from the French movie "Camille Rewinds" (New York Film Festival )

NEW YORK -- From “Peggy Sue Got Married” to “Back to the Future,” American movies have often fantasized about what would happen if we jumped to a high-school setting from an earlier era.

Turns out the French have been wondering about it too.

The Gallic filmmaker and actress Noemie Lvovsky has made “Camille Rewinds,” a  playful but  heartfelt look at that time-tested time-travel premise. In so doing she's created one of the more charming festival movies to come around in a while.

The film, which has just made its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival, places us with Camille, a 40-ish woman drinking her life away as she goes through an acrimonious divorce from her longtime husband, Eric.

Through a fanciful but not overdone conceit involving a wristwatch and New Year’s Eve, Camille finds that she’s jumped back to her high school circa 1985. There she encounters not only all of her childhood friends but also Eric, young and full of love for her; there’s none of the bitterness that will come later. (The "Peggy Sue" connections run deep.)

Knowing where it will all lead, Camille tries to resist his overtures even though she’s clearly in love with him. But resistance is pointless;  fates are written in the stars, even in French time-travel movies.

There are a few of the mind-bending, "Looper"-ish paradoxes that are fun to toss around after viewing a movie like this. But the most compelling parts of “Camille” -- which will continue playing the festival circuit but has yet to land a distribution -- is the relationship between the heroine and her mother, who died of a stroke a few weeks after the moment to which Camille has jumped back. Camille alternates between trying to save her mother and relishing what she now knows are her last days.

The twist in all this, of course, is that where Kathleen Turner's Peggy Sue was heading from a shiny 1980s present, the female protagonist here has jumped back to a cheesy 1980s past. (And it’s all here, from the clothes to the Go-Go’s, though presented in a way that’s rarely self-conscious.)

At an NYFF screening, selection committee member Amy Taubin made the “Peggy Sue” connection and offered strong praise. “It’s a kind of rough adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Peggy Sue Got Married,’” she said, alluding to the 1986 movie, but “a lot funnier and a great deal wiser than that original film.” Sometimes wisdom comes with time.

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