NYFF Review: Camille Rewinds


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Camille Rewinds shares a similar conceit with the 1986 film Peggy Sue Got Married: an unhappy middle-aged woman gets to go back in time to relive her teenage years. She knows what will happen to the people she loves, she wonders if anything can be changed, and she gets to enjoy the freedom of youth she’s longed to have again.

Camille shoots back to 1985, and the world is full of various sonic references: “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, “99 Luftballoons” by Nena, and “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s. But then, suddenly, in one scene “New Slang” by The Shins plays on a stereo in the background. Maybe they’re not as up on American indie rock in France (which would be surprising), but it’s such a glaring error. I wanted to believe this mistake was intentional. Maybe Camille Rewinds was going to play with time travel, fantasy, regret, and memory in a much more fascinating way than it initially seemed.

That didn’t happen. (And if I remember right, the song before “New Slang” in the same scene was “Venus” by Bananarama, which didn’t come out until 1986.)

Camille Rewinds (Camille Redouble)
Director: Noémie Lvovsky
Rating: TBD
Country: France

Part of me was expecting a more interesting take on the idea of time travel because of the opening credits, of all things. They’re pretty magnificent. There’s the neat, young woman’s cursive for all the text, perfect for a movie about going back to your own youth. The writing’s done over a plain black background. All the while, whiskey pours with the viscosity of motor oil, colored feathers fly, powder of some kind poofs up, and then the objects move in reverse. It takes a moment to notice. For the finale, a cat floats across the screen, obviously tossed in from just out of frame. It’s like that one Dali photo soft of.

But Camille’s story is still interesting even though I was hoping for more. It manages to endear and charm, and that may be because there’s something familiar about it. She’s played by the writer/director, Noémie Lvovsky. We meet her at a low point in life: her husband Eric (Samir Guesmi) is leaving her for a younger woman, they’re selling their apartment, and the only acting gigs she can get don’t involve much acting. She stumbles to a New Year’s Eve party with old friends whom she hasn’t seen in a long while. She passes out during the countdown to midnight and wakes up in a hospital bed on January 1st, 1985. To the rest of the world Camille is just 16, but to herself and the audience she’s still 40 years old.

Why does it happen? Well, there’s the fantasy of getting a second chance in life when the present seems like it’s too difficult to take. There’s the alcohol and sadness, which in the right amount is like time travel. And Camille did talk to an eccentric clockmaker played by Jean-Pierre Léaud (from Truffaut’s numerous Antoine Doinel films) who cut a ring off her finger she couldn’t remove. The real answer, though, is “Because movies.” It’s sort of set-up that needs no logic, that we accept as a convention of these kinds of stories.

Camille’s dazzled by being a teenager again, and there’s something kind of cool to see what a French home in 1985 looked like (there’s a rattan wall texture instead of that tacky faux-wood paneling in the States). Both her parents are still alive, her friends aren’t complicated, and life just seems carefree for once. Camille goes through the routine of bewilderment that time displaced people experience in films, but then she begins enjoying herself. This where the movie glides along, effortless and fun. There are some touching scenes as well involving Camille and her mother, played by Yolande Moreau. A few months into the 1985 she remembers, Camille’s mother dies of a stroke. Now that she’s gone back in time and is reliving these final months, she records the sweet notes of her mother’s voice. Maybe her mother’s death is preventable.

It’s also during 1985 that Camille meets and falls madly in love with Eric. Guesmi plays his teenage self as well, and he gets the body language and delivery of a gawky teen just right. Camille is first resistant. They haven’t even talked before and already she tells Eric that he ruined her life. But they have an attraction that’s profound and maybe unavoidable. It’s a perfect bit of chemistry. You can see the love in Eric’s eyes, and even knowing how it could end up, Camille experiences a similar kind of pull. What would it be like to relive your first love? To meet that person again before everything bad happened? Is the eventual hurt avoidable, and if it’s not avoidable, would you be able to endure all of that misery just for those good, golden years?

That’s another thing that made me think Camille Rewinds could have potentially gone to more interesting territory. There’s this big existential idea in the film that gets touched on, and it’s basically Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal recurrence/eternal return. During a sleepover with her best friend, Camille asks (I’m paraphrasing) if you had to relive your past and knew what was going to happen to the people you love but were unable to change things, what would you do? As the date of her mother’s death approaches and as she starts falling for Eric again, this question weighs heavier. The past she’s reliving is different than the past she remembers. Maybe changing the future is possible. (Of all things, I started to think of time travel in this movie in terms of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, though I don’t think Lvovsky intended on that association.)

But these heavy philosophical matters are my own hobby horses, and they don’t weigh down the lightheartedness of the movie. Lots of gags center around a 40 year old woman trying to interact with people who are much younger. There’s a scene where Camille tries to seduce a sophomore that’s hilarious. If the scenes between Camille and Eric capture the intensity of attraction, this catches the awkwardness of sexual experience and inexperience. There’s even a rapport Camille strikes up with a physics teacher, one that borders on potential romance. Technically, they’re both the same age.

I think with all the potential in Camille Rewinds, what disappointed me was how conventional it becomes as it wraps up. There are some genuinely emotional moments, and I think it says some strong things about the nature of love and regret. But what its winds up saying by the end is a bit too pat, almost too greeting card. And the fix for Camille’s time displacement is another “Because movies” moment, which I might have been more forgiving up of if I wasn’t so hung up on the cheesiness the movie succumbs to.

But that’s the way time is sort of like, I guess. Fitting for a time travel/memory movie. The stuff from the past seems great, partly because of nostalgia, and the future is full of potential. But what’s the present like? Honestly, it’s mostly just okay — comme ci, comme ça.

[Camille Rewinds will screen at Alice Tully Hall on September 29th, the Francesca Beale Theater on October 1st, and the Howard Gilman Theater on October 2nd and October 10th.]

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.