DIR/WRI: Rachel Lang • PRO: Valérie Bournonville, Pierre-Louis Cassou, Jeremy Forni, Joseph Rouschop • DOP: Fiona Braillon • ED: Sophie Vercruysse • DES: Jean-François Sturm • CAST: Salomé Richard, Claude Gensac, Lazare Gousseau
“What’s your profession?” This is a question asked of Baden Baden’s protagonist Ana (Salomé Richard) The answer, “Same as mine, I guess,” comes not from Ana herself but from the person who asked the question. Indeed, this appears to be one of the central questions of Baden Baden, Rachel Lang’s sophomore French language feature-length film, both written and directed by Lang. Professions – or at least, professions as overarching ideals that shape one’s life – seem a to be a vague, unreachable goal. Who can even be sure what professional life even entails?
After losing her job as a chauffeur on a Belgian film set, twenty-six-year-old Ana returns home to Strasbourg, without returning her rental car, to stay with her grandmother (Claude Gensac) for the summer. While there she juggles various odd jobs, spends time with friends and family and becomes re-acquainted with her ex (Olivier Chantreu), all while taking advantage of the unreturned rental. When her grandmother has a sudden fall and is hospitalised, Ana takes on the challenge of replacing her grandmother’s bathtub with a shower for her return.
Although at times it feels a little longer than its runtime of just over ninety minutes, what becomes clear is that Baden Baden is far more about Ana’s journey rather than any sense of destination. The sense of exploration, experimentation and ennui is portrayed through Ana’s effectively non-linear experiences of her summer in Strasbourg. This is not to say there is no sense of time changing, as the central storyline concerning Ana, her grandmother, and her determination to refit the bathroom is a reminder of the progression of time.
Baden Baden is bolstered by its excellent performances: Salomé Richard is eminently likable as Ana, playing her as equal parts adventurous, friendly and vulnerable. Claude Gensac brings a wonderfully dry sense of humour to the role of Grandmother, and Olivier Chantreu is frustratingly charming as Ana’s pompous and chauvinistic ex boyfriend Boris. Lazare Gousseau is perhaps the highlight as Grégoire, the incompetent DIY assistant, enlisted by Ana to help with the plumbing. Their renovating attempts generate much of the film’s physical humour as they try to refit the bathroom with little to no expertise. This is exacerbated by Gousseau’s fantastically deadpan delivery of his attempts to woo Ana with his sparse DIY knowledge.
With wide, slow pans of Strasbourg mirroring Ana’s own slow exploratory pace, Lang’s film explores how one’s mid-twenties can be a time of uncertainty. Indeed, in its own quiet way, Baden Baden feels like a celebration of the vocation-less of society. Ana may be restless and unsure of herself but she is also keen to work when she can find it, deeply caring of her friends and family, and eager to learn new skills. Perhaps we need to consider new configurations of the work-life balance and learn to value those who transform the community through their social work.
Baden Baden is released 30th September 2016