As a film about a middle-aged woman traveling back in time to relive her teenage years in 1985, Camille Rewinds gets its period fetishism out of the way quickly: a Clash t-shirt (itself anachronistic), a Nena song on the soundtrack, and an omnipresent canary-yellow Walkman. Noémie Lvovsky’s film is less concerned with mining the signifiers of a bygone era, or in parsing the implications of time travel, than in exploring the opportunity granted a woman at an unsure stage of her life to reflect back on what got her where she is today through an intensive engagement with her own past.
As such, Lvovsky’s film is marginally interesting, even if its conclusions are ultimately slight. The writer-director stars as Camille Valiant, a 40-year-old actress stuck in bit parts in B-horror movies, who’s virtually an alcoholic and, at the beginning of the film, is informed by her husband, Éric (Samir Guesmi), that he’s leaving her after 25 years. In a desperate state, Camille attends a New Year’s Eve party, gets drunk, passes out, and wakes up in a hospital back in 1985. Although she appears to everyone else as a 15-year-old girl, she manifests to herself (and to us) as her 40-year-old self, and Lvovsky mines the disconnect between the way she looks and the way people treat her for mixed comic effect. People’s aghast reactions when she demands booze and cigarettes are humorous, but only up to a point.
Overjoyed to be reunited with her dead parents and dismayed to be courted by the teenage version of her ex-husband, Camille attempts to save her mother’s life by forcing her to get a CAT scan that she believes will prevent her fatal stroke, all the while trying to dodge Éric’s advances. Only mildly committed to the futile effort at changing the past, Camille’s project becomes more one of self-knowledge, even as she undertakes a certain measure to ensure her daughter’s birth.
It’s all a pleasant enough idyll, or maybe even a dream, but as an exercise in philosophically grounded whimsy, Camille’s time travels fall short. Grotesque cameos by Jean-Pierre Léaud (as a loony watchmaker) and Mathieu Amalric (as a lecherous gnome of a high school teacher) can’t salvage the diminishing returns of the film’s comedic side and, in the end, Camille’s peacemaking with her own present life feels, if not overly easy, than at least a little too hasty. Lvovsky’s film is not without its charms, but pleasantries and lightly ironic distance can only get you so far. Camille Rewinds can’t quite manage to make the next step, content to stay at the level of gentle, but unsatisfying speculation.