By Joe Baltake
Bee Movie Critic
(Published Feb. 6, 1998)
Alain Berliner's "Ma Vie En Rose" ("My Life in Pink"), about a little boy who truly believes he's a little girl, takes a playful, sideways approach to its subject. It does almost nothing that you'd expect it to do.
That's because, deep down, Berliner's film, a Franco-Belgian coproduction, has almost nothing to do with the subject of sexual orientation or even gender confusion. Little Ludovic Fabre (Georges du Fresne), the film's 7-year-old hero, isn't confused at all. As he sees it, God dropped a chromosome somewhere before he was born, and that explains why he feels like a girl and likes everything girlish -- dolls, makeup and frilly clothing.
Obviously, this is tricky material, taboo even. Traditionally, movies -- and society, for that matter -- have no trouble with the notion of tough little girls who like sports, climb trees and beat up little boys. It's endearing and non-threatening. But a little boy who goes the opposite way, the way Ludovic does, is something else altogether.
The idea makes people way too nervous.
And that's what Berliner addresses in "Ma Vie En Rose" -- society's nervousness about sissified little boys. His movie is an odd, lively and very sympathetic comedy of manners about the assorted people Ludovic comes into contact with, and their shared, stunned reaction to his predilection.
Their immeidate response is to remind him that he's different, for God's sake, and, well, how dare he be?
The miracle is that, considering what it's trying to do, "Ma Vie En Rose" isn't the least bit preachy. It resists all impulses to send a message by conveying Ludovic's tale as a childhood fable, told in the form of a soothing afterschool special and in the dreamy pastel colors of a toy store.
This is adult material done as an innocuous children's film.
The way Berliner has designed it, you buy into Ludovic's belief about that lost chromosome. His family is just about perfect, as cozy as the Bradys. Mom Hanna (the excellent Michele Laroque) and dad Pierre (Jean-Pierre Ecoffey) accept him for what he is, assuming he's just going through a phase.
Hanna particularly is a free-thinker who believes in eccentricity and that her child has to find himself, and her mother (Helene Vincent) is just like her, only even more warm and understanding.
Ludovic has three siblings -- a sister and two brothers -- all of whom are protective of him, not embarrassed at all by his penchant for lavender.
Matters go ballistic, however, when the Fabres move to a manicured, upper-middle class Belgian suburb -- and right next door to Pierre's new boss.
Even under the most optimistic circumstances, that would pose a difficult living arrangement, but it doesn't help that Ludovic shows up at neighborhood parties in a dress and wearing earrings or that he develops a crush on the boss' son, Jerome (Julien Riviere), intent on marrying him.
This doesn't bother Jerome. And so the two families have to break up an impromptu wedding ceremony that becomes the scandal of the neighborhood.
The horrors continue to mount: Ludovic has problems at school with bullies; his father gets fired by the uptight, bigoted boss; the neighborhood ostracizes the family. All of this takes its toll, even stressing out the usually centered Hanna. The problem is how to protect the family and especially Ludovic, but without destroying him in the process.
And how to help him be himself while avoiding society's cruel labels.
Ludovic remains impressively resiliant throughout, never quite fathoming what all the fuss is about, and the young actor du Fresne comes through with an aptly serene performance that turns out to be quite haunting. His Ludovic is a great kid, willful and creative. You sense Ludovic will go places.
"Ma Vie En Rose" cheerily observes that in order to be accepted, one has to be ordinary and mundane. This film is not about a boy who's "different," but one who's "special."
He's helped enormously by the wonderful, no-nonsense little actor, George Du Fresne, who has the right blend of thoughtful reserve and emotional chaos and who makes Ludovic sympathetic without resorting to performing in a cloying, cutesy fashion. He simply believes in who he is. It's a refreshing, un-gussied performance.
The film largely succeeds on other levels, too. It not only makes the parents' horror understandable and real but it explains the safety of Ludovic's fantasy land -- a place full of the magical imagery that most kids use to protect themselves from the rules and codes that govern adults. Anything is possible in Ludovic's imagination and there is no limitation to his dreaming.
Berliner keeps the story moving briskly and with a terrific visual flair, but there's more to it than meets the eye. And that's the payoff. The film has been packaged in such an entertaining way that we don't realize we've just gotten a whopper of a life lesson until we've left the theater.
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