LA VANITÉ || 2015, Switzerland / France || Drama || Directed by – Lionel Baier / Written by – Lionel Baier, Julien Bouissoux / Produced by – Estelle Fialon, Yael Fogiel, Laetitia Gonzalez, Caroline Gudinchet, Frédéric Mermoud, Agnieszka Ramu / Cinematography – Patrick Lindenmaier / Starring – Patrick Lapp, Carmen Maura, Ivan Georgiev / Running time: 75 mins.
Vanity by Lionel Baier revolves around its three central characters. One, David Miller (Patrick Lapp) is an elderly man who has decided to take his own life silently and with dignity by committing legal suicide. Assisting him is a chatty Spanish lady his same age named Esperanza (Carmen Maura). Completing the picture is Treplev (Ivan Georgiev), a good natured male prostitute who agrees to serve as a witness to the deed, a role required for things to run in accordance with the law, after Miller’s estranged son refuses to have anything to do with the event.
The film takes place over the course of one night, and despite its minimal but significant use of flashbacks and dream sequences, we never really leave the setting of the cheap, cheesy, tacky and outdated motel complex in which the narrative takes place. Despite this, as it progresses, the cleverness of the screenplay allows a deeper examination of the characters, and as we learn more about them, their individual lives as well as the paths that led them to this very night, we also automatically care more about their intentions and the story.
Given the conventional, theatrical structure of the film, much of its impact lies precisely with the screenplay and the characters. The former element’s use of satirical, frisky humour allows for an alternative but meaningful examination of what is a driving subject in the film – euthanasia. But it is the cleverness of its balance with subtly sweet and tender moments which ultimately prevents Vanity from seeming too superficial, and allows the leading trio to evolve from well-defined individuals with different personalities into one whole single element, much like a surrogate family.
Such an evolution is equally supported by the strong performances by the Lapp, Maura and Georgiev and their chemistry as a unit enhances the imtimacy of the atmosphere of the film. Maura’s casting seems particularly appropriate in a film that recalls the style of Pedro Almodovar, particularly in its sense of humour, but also in its art direction and visual touches. The brightness of the colours, so bright in fact that they sometime give an aura or artificiality about it, places a contrast between the darkness of euthanasia and the more specific, bizarre circumstances and events that take place throughout the film.
While the screenplay, co-written by director Baier with Julien Bouissoux, can be praised for its balance and its entertaining pace, the same cannot be said about the cinematography, that sometimes feels a little unnecessarily overdone. It is easy to see that the choice behind some of the more meticulous shots comes from the wish to distance the film from the staleness of its theatrical nature. However, it is distracting both on a narrative level, but also sometimes in truly understanding the observations on Vanity‘s more compelling side and shifts the attention away from its intimacy. This excess of zeal is not always negative. In a sequence near the end, the film has a short flashback sequence shot in the style of silent cinema. More often than not, it is in the transitions that the film’s excesses show, and their inclusion of the film proves to do more harm than good. – 2/5