REVIEW: Avant que de tout perdre [Just Before Losing Everything] [2013]

Score: 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 29 minutes | Release Date: 2013 (France)
Studio: Agence du Court Métrage
Director(s): Xavier Legrand
Writer(s): Xavier Legrand

“You have to do it, Miriam”

Whoa. Xavier Legrand‘s screenwriting and directorial debut Avant que de tout perdre [Just Before Losing Everything] is a tense piece of filmmaking that will have you holding your breath throughout. It starts with a young boy walking the opposite way from school before being stopped by his teacher. He says he’s buying cigarettes for his father and will be in class soon, yet he’s seen waiting at a bridge upon her dismissal until a woman pulls up in her car. From here the two go to another school and add a teenage girl who joins them post-embrace and kiss with whom we can assume is her boyfriend. The trio drives to the woman’s place of work, the kids get left with a friend, and she searches for the owner to plan what has now very distinctly become an escape.

Legrand keeps all detail very close to the chest as this cinéma vérité thriller continues with palpable fear and an adrenaline rush getting Miriam (Léa Drucker) through her tragic circumstances before she breaks down and decides against what must be done. We don’t know what her husband Antoine (Denis Ménochet) has done until there is no more hiding the evidence. We don’t know if young Julien (Miljan Chatelain) knows exactly what’s happening or how Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux) is coping with a very near future uprooted from the only life she’s ever known. All we know for sure is the pained, sympathetic looks of co-worker Gaëlle (Anne Benoît) and disappointed but understanding boss Mr. Savelli (Christian Benedetti). This is something they condone and something absolutely necessary.

So much is said with very little time or dialogue as what was hoped to be a simple extraction turns into a cat and mouse chase of excruciatingly difficult subterfuge and emotional distress. Drucker is a revelation, subtly keeping together in order for her strength to transfer to her children save for one momentary lapse that finds her unraveling into tears. We see how scared she is and know her decision wasn’t taken lightly, especially once pieces of the horrors at home come into focus. Saying much more will ruin the tense impact of this distilled moment of terror and hope for salvation so I’ll just give special note to Benoît and co-worker Sophie’s (Claire Dumas) performances as the danger comes to them. Until the film officially cuts to black, you’ll truly have no idea whether Miriam’s fate is freedom or destruction.

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