Our review of In the Shadow of Girls: A Song of Liberation

A famous countertenor blackmails inmates in prison. Étienne Comar signs a second endearing and sensitive film.

Let there be no mistake, In the shadow of girls has absolutely nothing to do with the work of Marcel Proust. The girls in question are not in bloom. On the other hand, they are well in the shade. And some for a long time.

For Luc Jardon (Alex Lutz), an opera singer who has agreed to lead singing workshops in prison, the visit begins with an identity check. Badge, personal belongings, everything goes… A tuning fork that rings under the portico will be ruthlessly confiscated. “You were given permissions for the music material, but not for this stuff, leave it there.”

Luc, a famous opera singer, does not take long to understand where he has set foot. With rimmed glasses, long hair, a crazy beard and a light beige linen jacket, this out-of-class countertenor seems well isolated and almost defenseless against the six volunteers of his choir in detention. Why the hell did he put himself through this? With his soft voice, he justifies himself: “I thought it was a great project.” Of course, we can’t help but think of Emmanuel Courcol’s film A triumph, where Kad Merad taught acting to a gang of colorful jailbirds. Very quickly, however, Étienne Comar’s second film took another direction. More intimate. Centered on singing in a prison environment.

rough symphony

Film screenwriter men and gods (2010), producer of fifteen feature films, having directed the biopic Django, with Reda Kateb, in 2017, Comar draws inspiration from his own life. After his father died, he joined an amateur rock band. This allowed him to grieve through the liberating experience of singing.

The six inmates who follow Luc Jardon’s classes will put him to the test. Janine sings out of tune, Jess nicknamed “Mademoiselle Dodo” (Hafsia Herzi) speaks so low that it is hard to hear her. Marzena, a Polish woman from Krakow, barely speaks French, Carole (Veerle Baetens) is skinned alive. Noor (played by the non-professional actress Fatima Berriah) rebels against the conditions of detention in the central… Not to mention Catherine (Agnès Jaoui), who sings perfectly but hides an underlying violence that can explode at any moment.

Federating a united choir at the heart of this penitentiary universe where isolation and “every man for himself” are the order of the day: that is the whole point of the film. As an introverted leader, Alex Lutz confronts without letting his guard down bloodshed, rivalries between prisoners or the aggressiveness of these women who feel like pariahs of society. After playing a singer in comedy guya tennis champion in Fifth Set, Lutz changes register, overwhelming with realism and sobriety. The sequence where the girls sing Where are the women?by Patrick Juvet, is wonderful, or the one in which they listen to the hoarse voice of Jeanne Moreau humming India Song.

With a spare staging, Étienne Comar orchestrates his film like a rough symphony, without affectation, a capella. In the shadow of girls is a touching, sensitive, sharp film, which confines itself to daily prison life to better illustrate this metaphor of the great escape through song.


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