OLIVIER, OLIVIER (1992) [Feature]

France (MIFF 1993 )
Director: Agnieszka Holland

Olivier, Olivier opens with more than a passing nod to Tarkovsky — romantic scenes of majestic, wind-swept cornfields entice the unsuspecting with rose-coloured recollections. Whilst ostensibly about the resonances of childhood, not unlike Holland's previous feature Europa, Europa, this is a film without the radiant afterglow. In fact, it shares many of the central themes and much of the vicious moral force found in the traditional fairy tale.

Red-capped Olivier doesn't return from delivering a basket of goodies to his frail grandmother. His family struggles with the sudden disappearance. This is particularly difficult, given that Olivier has acted as a cipher for their competing expectations of family life. Dad's an irascible country vet, on the perpetual verge of promotion, mum's a melancholic, whose only escape lies with the idolised son, and the 'perfect' daughter enjoys killing 'extraterrestrial' insects for kicks.
But the Prodigal Olivier does return — six years later he is re-discovered street-walking in Paris. Or is he? Memory, it seems, is closer to delusion in this examination of the unresolvability of identity. Olivier is only ever a screen or mirror onto which each character projects their desires — a metaphor for the blanket of sexual repression that lurks beneath every family picnic.

In exposing the uncomfortable 'pleasures' of familial life Olivier, Olivier reveals the perversities of the nuclear family. Its narratively convenient treatment of the desire that falls outside the family's boundaries is no solution to the destructive desires within.

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