Le Skylab (2011)
Julie Delpy is a French-American filmmaker who has weaved between roles in acclaimed films, most notably Richard Linklater’s (soon to be) Before… trilogy, and making accomplished films herself. As a director she is best known for 2 Days in Paris, a refreshing and genuinely funny romantic comedy which managed to deftly sidestep cliche, as well as follow-up 2 Days in New York. This, her fourth feature, is set in 1979, and centres upon a summer holiday family get together in Brittany, disrupted by the falling to earth of the space station which gives the film it’s name.
Delpy drew upon her own childhood experiences during writing, and even admitted in an interview with the Guardian that “a lot of the lines in the film are literally out of my memory”, with a number of characters inspired in some way by family members. The filmmaker stars as Anna, mother of Albertine, the nine year old obsessed with the satellite and unable to understand her elder’s relative disregard of the news story unfolding in their direct vicinity.
Similarly to both 2 Days instalments, Delpy’s dialogue is natural and well-crafted, her characters discussing age, sex and politics with poignancy and unforced, subtle humour. Politics, however, is much more an explicit presence in Le Skylab than her other features. The adults of the group, reluctant at first to discuss the unfolding news story at first lest the children begin to panic, soon begin to speculate wildly, to results both humorous and unnerving.
There’s a tension which creeps into the extended family’s interactions and results in many purely dramatic scenes delivered convincingly by the strong cast. The filmmaker’s father, Albert, plays Herbert, a man struggling from the onset of mental illness and mounting depression, and proves a compelling screen presence. Elsewhere, scenes exploring early-teenage sexuality are well-judged. Delpy handles these darker themes with confidence and dexterity, and Le Skylab is an engrossing film, elegant yet unshowy, and a strong addition to the career of a highly talented filmmaker.