The problem with Be Good, Juliette Garcias’s moody, visually-striking directorial debut, is one the film shares with other, similarly ambiguous character studies about people with hidden pasts. When the pull of one’s movie becomes so tied to its audience’s desire to know what the mystery is, how do one satisfy expectations without resorting to gotcha gimmickry or settling for shrug-inducing vagueness? It gives little away to say that Garcias treads a middle ground here, crafting a sober yet plausible explanation for her protagonist’s trauma and revealing it in an unsettling yet restrained fashion. That it still left me feeling a little hoodwinked may speak to a certain shallowness in Garcias’s screenplay, but it also attests to how thoroughly she grabbed me prior to the big revelation—enveloping us in her heroine’s dreamy isolation even as she gives us enough distance to wonder what, exactly, is up with this girl.
The girl in question is Ève (Anaïs Demoustier), a teenage loner seemingly bereft of family and friends. When we first meet her, she has been hired by a local baker and his wife (Stéphane Chivot and Alexandra Fleischer) to make bread deliveries in and around their small, rural town. Ève dutifully makes her rounds, pausing frequently to observe the places and people around her. Quiet and watchful by nature, she seems particularly drawn to the spacious, forest-shrouded chateau of pianist Jean (Bruno Todeschini) and his family. What draws her there, we gradually learn, are the memories of her and Jean’s questionable relationship, which occurred when she was quite young. The details of their connection and why Ève attempts to reenter his life, however, hang unresolved over the film.
Garcias adroitly oscillates between perspectives throughout Be Good. As if mirroring her ever-observant protagonist, Garcias follows Ève from a distance as she surreptitiously explores her surroundings, her often-inscrutable motives and desires just out of the camera’s reach. Even in arresting, shallow-focus close-ups, Demoustier keeps her emotions concealed, her wide, haunted eyes alternately suggesting bottomless hurt and simmering madness. Yet Garcias frequently allows us glimpses of Ève’s disconnected psyche, gently hinting at her emotional damage in the way she will focus in on small details—the kneading of bread dough, the moldering body of a dead dog—as a seeming defense against wilder, more disturbing thoughts. And when these memories do break through the surface, they are quite haunting. Perhaps the film’s most indelible image comes when Ève first flashes back to her and Jean’s piano lessons, their fingers tentatively brushing against one another during a duet.
Shot with an eye for gentle, sun-dappled colors by Julien Hirsch, Be Good expertly plugs us into Ève’s sensuous emotional indeterminacy. But this very quality makes the film’s final revelation feel a bit hollow at its core. Without spilling the beans, the ending’s heavy implications point toward messy questions—both emotional and practical—that such this hushed, elegant film seems unwilling or unable to really deal with. The unfortunate result is a conclusion that satisfies on a basic, now-we-know level but ultimately feels like a bit of a cheat—a carefully calculated “twist” rather than a tragically inevitable discovery.
Be Good will play on February 21, 23, and 28 as part of this year’s Film Comment Selects series. To purchase tickets, click here.