By Jonathan Walik
Directed by Justine Triet
Age of Panic (La Bataille de Solferino) created quite the stir when it debuted in Cannes in 2013. 90 minutes of the crying, screaming and arguing of both infants and adults certainly made it stand out from its competition. Unfortunately it didn’t get much of a showing outside of its native France but fear not, the film is finally available in the UK and fortunately for us it’s pretty good. Laetitia (Laetitia Dosch) is a news reporter covering the unbearably tense 2012 Presidential election in France. As if this wasn’t enough, she is also trying to manage a babysitter for her two screaming tots, please a new boyfriend and fend off the agitated, frustrated father of her children. She is also very late to work. What starts off as a solid albeit conventional foundation for a frantic family comedy becomes more of an analysis on balancing motherhood and work as well as the complications that arise when parents separate on undesirable terms.
What immediately sets the film apart is its refreshing combination of both documentary and fiction elements. Although the central family drama is fictional, the political maelstrom happening in the background is very real. Much of the film was actually shot on the streets of Paris during the 2012 national elections. The naturalistic dialogue and low budget feel add an authenticity that falls perfectly in line with the real events happening. Laetitia and Vincent are both convincingly and understandably frustrated and the film never takes sides. A key scene has the way-out-of-his-depth babysitter bringing the two babies into the heaving crowds to escape from Vincent and find Laetitia. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t pan out smoothly but it is the tensions, fights, comments and feelings of the very real thousands of people that add a special dose of tension to the proceedings in a way that would be unachievable under artificial circumstances. A third character is introduced in the form of Vincent’s ally and sort of lawyer/attorney/student in training Arthur (Arthur Harari). Out of empathy or perhaps pure pity Arthur agrees to help Vincent out and in what feels like the umpteenth climax of the film, storms Laetitia’s place to demand as a lawyer that Vincent be able to spend time with his children. It’s 2am at this point. Again, a much-needed opportunity for light relief is quickly brushed aside in favour of another screaming match between Laetitia and Vincent. Here is where the film runs risk of collapsing in on itself. It wouldn’t have hurt at this point to allow the audience a bit of a break and a laugh and all the shouting does briefly tread to close to the line of monotony. This is where the committed performances really come into play and help keep you engaged.
While it would be difficult to call the experience of watching the Age of Panic a pleasurable one (stressful comes more quickly to mind), it is certainly a rewarding one. Though it never quite achieves the emotional poignancy which it strives for, it remains conceptually original, balanced and entirely watchable. For those looking for a chuckle, be warned that this portrait of a modern family just trying to make it work will more likely elicit empathetic sighs than laughs and for those dealing with similar circumstances it will be all too familiar. Age of Panic lives up to its name. Don’t expect anything less than screams and cries for the first hour and you’ll be waiting to exhale for the rest. Best to watch while calm, seated and with a glass of wine. Age of Panic is an under-acknowledged treat that’s worth the ride.
Watch Age Of Panic over at FilmDoo now