Thus does Belgian director Alain Berliner address the twin demons of emergent sexual identity and ironclad convention. In the neatly groomed middle-class suburb where Ludovic's family has just settled, adults are no more prepared to embrace a seven-year-old gender rebel than they would a gang of bomb-throwing terrorists. When Ludovic appears at his parents' housewarming party wearing a red dress, Maman's oversized pumps and a bright smear of lipstick, the bourgeoisie are uneasily amused, and we get our first jolt of satire. But when he playacts a wedding ceremony with a boy named Jerome, who also happens to be the son of his father's boss, the neighbors revolt and the film darkens. The embattled Fabre family finds itself in the eye of a hurricane, and their own ugliness emerges.
Since the days when Francois Truffaut first grappled with child abuse in The 400 Blows and honored the resilience of kids in Small Change, European filmmakers have shown a particular gift for dealing with childhood trauma and for getting authentic performances from very young actors. Just last year, Jacques Doillon gave us the extraordinary Ponette, about a four-year-old magically grieving for her dead mother, and Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's La Promesse examined a teenager who must stand up to a cruel father who's been exploiting immigrant workers. In Ma Vie en Rose Berliner elicits from young Georges Du Fresne, acting in his first movie, a complex portrait of resolve and vulnerability in the face of grownups who are enslaved by their own expectations and self-doubts.
When Ludovic tells his baffled conformist mother (Michele Laroque) that he's a "girlboy," she insists on shipping him off to a psychologist for what she imagines to be minor repairs. When his father (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) forces his son out onto the soccer field for a little male bonding, he thinks little Ludo is simply going through a stage. When other kids mock him and angry parents sign a petition to get Ludovic thrown out of school, the entire family--four kids, two parents--starts to disintegrate.
Only Ludo's grandmother (Helene Vincent), a youthful whirlwind who scoots around in a yellow convertible, understands his quandary. She indulges his fairy-tale imaginings when he reinvents himself as "Pam," the glossy, blond Barbie doll of his favorite TV show, and then blithely floats above his neighborhood like a force of nature. Grandmere grasps his sweet dream about X and Y chromosomes, a subject he barely grasps, falling out of the sky like wayward toy blocks. Apparently a product of Sixties activism, she implicitly understands the boy's urge to self-determination--whatever form it takes.
What hope for Ludovic and his family to solve their surreal dilemma? Berliner and co-writer Chris vander Stappen are interested in satirizing a society frightened of its own shadow and in revealing a misfit's inner life that's every bit as vivid as anything in Truffaut or, for that matter, the torment of the preteen girl in Welcome to the Dollhouse. But they're too kind to give us a tragedy. As the child and the outcast family try to cope, the filmmakers provide a soothing dollop of redemption that feels more like wishful thinking than the way of the world. Ma Vie en Rose's final act of grace gives off its own bright charm, and even if we don't quite believe, it serves as a satisfying coda to a film that is at once gently comic and disturbing to the core.
Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink).
Screenplay by Chris vander Stappen and Alain Berliner. Directed by Alain Berliner. With Georges Du Fresne, Michele Laroque, Jean-Philippe Ecoffey and Helene Vincent.