Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) is 15 years old and uncertain of how to progress with her first boyfriend, Luc (Cyr Boitard). She has other concerns, such as the school play she is involved with and she feels she's having trouble with her lines and not exactly getting to the heart of her character, but it is her love life that provides most of her worry, and most of the worry for her family as well. Her father (Maurice Pialat) and mother (Evelyne Ker) are not getting along as well as she would want, and her brother Robert (Dominique Besnehard) takes her mother's side, often against Suzanne, so where can she turn?
How about to as much meaningless sex as she can as a temporary respite from her encroaching doldrums? Director Maurice Pialat came up with this story as a vehicle for his new discovery Bonnaire, and she was rightly acclaimed for her performance, naturalistic yet suggesting acres of melancholy as she did. However, he also came in for criticism that he was possibly exploiting the young actress, and she was required to do nude scenes that some found beyond the pale for one so young - she was only sixteen when the film was made. However, Pialat made sure that she never appeared in any situations where she was actually simulating sex.
If that makes things any better for the viewer, then so be it, but Bonnaire never felt any ill-feeling towards her mentor, and regarded him as a father figure, going on to make more films with him throughout the rest of the decade. Actually, what is far more distressing than her nudity, which was presented in a matter of fact fashion that did not suggest any aims at leering eroticism, was the way that Suzanne's family have a tendency to beat the girl. If those slaps and punches were all in pretend for the sake of the camera, they look all too convincing, and Pialat as the father is the first to strike her.
This opens the floodgates for her mother and brother to begin beating her when the father leaves the home for another woman, and after a while the film begins to look like one scene of Suzanne seeing her friends alternating with others of her family smacking her around. Of course, domestic abuse is not supposed to be an easy subject to watch, but you can understand why some parts of the audience were unhappy with the way Bonnaire was treated onscreen. Suzanne starts off soul-searching as may teens do, but Pialat does not offer her much of a way out from her malaise, starting with the tourist she loses her virginity to instead of Luc, an act which causes him to break up with her.
Suzanne doesn't so much need a good shake as she needs a hefty dose of self-esteem, yet nobody around her is prepared - or able, really - to offer that to her. It's not as if she's suffering through any great personal hardship in her circumstances, as this depicts a middle class family and she is not wanting for money or education, but that background has left her floundering emotionally. She doesn't have any grand breakdown, as the most violence comes with those beatings and they simply make her angry, but the sense of modern life weighing more and more heavily on her as she goes from sexual partner to sexual partner over an unspecified length of time without any great satisfaction is one which some have found moving, but if Bonnaire makes you care for the girl at all, most likely you'll be left troubled by the way this plays out. Pialat blames it all on the father who leaves her, setting her adrift in an attempt to find a substitute and confusing sex with affection, and he has a point, but that didn't mean the other characters had to treat her the way they do.
This French writer and director, who started his career as a painter, was a difficult man by most accounts, and will probably be best remembered for such unsparing, verging-on-the-bleak 1980s films like Loulou, Police, À Nos Amours and Sous le Soleil du Satan, which won the Palme D'Or at Cannes.