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SCARLET (2022) review

July 12, 2023


written by: Pietro Marcello, Maurizio Braucci, Maud Ameline & Geneviève Brisac
produced by: Charles Gillibert
directed by: Pietro Marcello
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: June 9, 2022 (limited) & July 7, 2023 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)


Back in 2019, Italian director Pietro Marcello premiered his second feature at the Venice Film Festival with “Martin Eden” a loose adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 novel of the same name. Known primarily for his documentaries, Marcello presented the moral and sentimental journey of an idealistic man in a captivating manner, while incorporating immersive footage from the period in an almost surreal manner. He takes a similar approach to his latest film, “Scarlet”, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival last year. It too is a loose adaptation, this time of 1923’s “Scarlet Sails” from Russian writer, Alexander Grin. This film plays like an amalgam of a tragic fantasy tale and a verite documentary, which is no surprise coming from Marcello.

The story is set in the rural north of France shortly after World War I, which finds Raphaël (Raphaël Thiéry) returning from the frontlines, weary and with a limp. He learns that his wife has died and he is left with an infant girl, Juliette, who is being cared for by Adeline (Noémie Lvovsky) a widow of a nearby farmer. Raphaël’s talent is in woodworking and makes himself useful on the farm and gets a construction job in the village as he raises his daughter. As she gets older, Juliette (Juliette Jouan), blossoms into a lovely young woman, curious about the world around her and developing her own musical talents, yet the other villagers treat her and her father with disdain, as if they did something to be ostracized. In the nearby woods, Juliette encounters a mysterious woman (Yolande Moreau), possibly a witch, who tells her that one day she will be swept away by scarlet sails that will take her far away from this village. Eventually, she meets a dashing older pilot (Louis Garrel), giving Juliette a welcome distraction from daily routines, wondering if he is part of that strange woman’s prophecy.



As “Scarlet” opens Marcello establishes a specific setting by using real archival images of Armistice Day in the Bay of the Somme. The director, who co-wrote the screenplay with Maurizio Braucci, Maud Ameline & Geneviève Brisac, has a knack for seamlessly blending such footage with the time and place in which the film is being told. This combination doesn’t always work, since its navigating a literary feel with a sense of the surreal, in what is essentially a coming-of-age tale for Juliette. If accepted simply as a fairytale, then “Scarlet” is a bit easier to accept, but considering what it offers, there are times where it feels Marcello cannot decide on what he wants to communicate here.

There is also an underlying story tied to the villagers that is unnecessarily vague. For some reason, both Raphaël and Juliette, even Adeline at times, are treated with disdain or seen as Others. Something has clearly happened in the past to result in such behavior, but there’s never an indication as to specifically what. There is a revelation that a local cafe owner forced himself on Raphaël’s wife, which may or not have resulted in her death, but even that feels like vague local word-of-mouth gossip. Because of the uncertainty associated with the behavior of the villagers, it’s hard to know what to hold on to in “Scarlet”.




At least the three actors portraying, Raphaël, Juliette, and Adeline are fascinating to watch. Raphaël Thiéry, casts an memorable presence in the film as Raphaël, predominately due to his physical appearance. His brooding exterior is imposing, with a protruding brow, broad shoulders, and callused hands (more than once, I thought of Benjamin Grimm) and at first one would expect mostly grunts and violent outbursts from him (granted, there are some of those), but Thiéry is at his best when he conveys a tender side to the character, especially when interacting with young Juliette or playing his accordion. Newcomer Juliette Jouan communicates an impressive confidence and a naturalness that seems effortless. The two actors work well together, especially when there’s creative collaboration between father and daughter – whether they are making wooden toys to sell on consignment at store in Paris, or playing music together at home – both of them work off each other well.

Maybe that’s because neither of the French artists have had extensive acting training or experience. Jouan is an accomplished musician and composer in her own right and approaches her role with a very open and vulnerable manner, as if experiencing the world for the first time. Clearly, the newness of being on a film set and adapting to the routine incorporated into her portrayal.

Of course, it also helps that the musical scenes in “Scarlet” spotlight her inherent talent and for those scenes she wound up working closely with veteran composer Gabriel Yared, resulting in scenes of convincing authenticity. Thiéry has had slightly more acting experience, but he primarily comes from a visual arts background as a illustrator, painter, and sculptor. These talents lend to also portraying his character with a discernable authenticity, allowing his actions to communicate much more than any lines of dialogue. It would seem there could almost be a separate film revolved around Noémie Lvovsky’s character, Adeline. Her stubborn resilience is fascinating and delving into how she became such a strong and independent woman would make for a story that would expand on her character in interesting ways.

While there are definitely times when viewers may wonder if there is something missing in “Scarlet” or if something needed to be added, it’s nevertheless a curious delight to experience such a story. Marcello delicately weaves together music and fantasy, history and folklore, and ethereal romance to craft a timeless story of a young woman’s emancipation.



RATING: **1/2




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