"Sequins" is about much more than cute glass buttons. Eleonore Faucher's directorial debut observes the quiet desperation of a 17-year-old who's determined to keep her unwanted pregnancy to herself. It's about painful secrets.
Claire (Lola Naymark) plucks cabbages from her parents' patch and secretly trades them for rabbit hides. She uses these skins for sequined embroidery, her private passion. She also works the cash register at the supermarket. Yet despite her busy schedule -- she manages to get in some cow milking, too -- she lives a withdrawn life. She hardly speaks to her parents. And her only confidant is her friend Lucile (Marie Felix), who has moved out of this provincial French region to the city of Lyons.
Claire's condition is becoming so obvious at work that she has stolen an overcoat from an overweight fellow worker so she can hide her growing belly. When her co-workers remark on her size, Claire lies, telling them she has cancer. The weight gain, she continues, is a side effect of the drugs she is taking. To emphasize her point, she rips out a strand of her thick, red hair, as if she's going bald. Not long after, Claire quits her job and retreats to her apartment. She plans to have the child and put it up for adoption.
"Thank God for my embroidery," she writes Lucile.
It's clear Claire will do anything to stay inside her lonely cocoon. But as this trapped butterfly learns, she's not the only one in a state of self-pity. When Claire meets with Lucile, who has come back to visit her brother Guillaume, her world opens a little.
Guillaume (Thomas Laroppe) is a melancholy soul whose face is scarred from a motorcycle accident that claimed his friend Ichkhan. In his grief, he quit his job and broke up with his girlfriend. He plans to leave the country. Claire feels the lure of a kindred spirit. More significant, she gets the opportunity for sequin work at the home of Madame Melikian (Ariane Ascaride), a well-known designer for the best houses in Paris. Madame M. also happens to be the late Ichkhan's mother, with her own sorrows.
Little by little, a tentative relationship blossoms into warmth between the despondent Claire and her brooding boss. One has lost a child, the other plans to lose hers. And here, finally, is the center of the story. The women's growing trust in each other gives them the spiritual dimension to rejoin life. And their lives undergo subtle but unequivocal changes for the better.
"Sequins," which Faucher wrote with Gaelle Mace, feels like one idea stretched into a modest, colorful display. But what a sweet display it is. The red-haired, puckery-lipped Naymark seems to get lovelier and rosier by the minute, as pregnant women often do. It's as if she herself is gestating in the womb and growing into a real person. And as Madame Melikian, Ascaride makes a vivid contrast, an Armenian Miss Havisham who slowly returns to the light of happiness.
What counts in "Sequins" isn't the narrative but the feelings underneath it -- made more poignant by the beautiful images and Michael Galasso's stirring score. This is about the quiet desperation of these characters' lives, how they can slip below the surface with barely a ripple. But it's also about how people can resurface. We see this in the rapture Claire experiences as she looks at Madame Melikian's embroidery. Crouching underneath the designs, she looks up at the magnificent stitching as if marveling at a constellation of stars. And our feelings about sequins, somehow, will never be casual again.
Sequins (88 minutes, in French with subtitles, at Landmark's E Street) is not rated; it contains some sexual content and profanity.