Director: Marie Lormeau
Writer: Marie Lormeau
Cast: Stéphanie Marino, Tatia Tsuladze
Running time: 12mins
There’s nothing quite like a car-ride for familial tensions to explode into the open. As the vehicle hurtles down the road, it becomes a combustible enclosed space, where the limits of what can be said, and what must be listened to, change. Without an easy escape route, there is no longer a way to avoid the big questions. Thinking back to their childhoods, then, many people may well remember that the moment a great unspoken issue finally broke out was in a car.
Marie Lormeau’s short film Le Trajet (The Path) is a frank and emotionally honest depiction of one such moment, when after months of quiet resentment something finally gives and the course of a mother-daughter relationship shifts. The journey in question sees an exasperated Nathalie (Stéphanie Marino) taking the rebellious Julie (Tatia Tsuladze) home after she’s been caught shoplifting.
The dynamic between them is engrossing – and more than enough to carry us through the film without any other ‘action’. For this reason, a near-miss with a heavy goods vehicle in the final third of the film seems a slight misstep. Not only do the effects seem ever so slightly janky for a stunt there was not the time or budget to actually execute, it was not necessary to show us at all. All the drama we need is in this enclosed space.
Early on in the journey, the inevitable confrontation initially takes the form of passive-aggressive sparring. Neither combatant wants to show their hand too early, instead choosing to hint at the power they hold within their particular dynamic.
Nathalie does this by asking her daughter to light her a cigarette, while forbidding her to take one for herself. It is a vice she seemingly indulges in as much to remind Julie of her place as child, as it is a much-needed stress-reliever. Responding to this stinging implication that she is only “playing adult”, Julie responds in kind by reminding Nathalie of how easy that relationship makes it for child to wound parent – modelling a hat she stole during her escapades at the shopping centre.
It is a clever piece of writing from Lormeau. It gives the actors something low-key to get their teeth into and build from – rather than too quickly launching into a one-note shouting match – while also giving us insight into a conflict between the pair that has been brewing for some time. It is a scenario we can relate to from both angles: many of us have been the teenager who feels they have outgrown life with their parents and are throwing themselves against the boundaries that provides in search of something more; and we have either since grown into parents who are now enduring that from the other side, desperate to keep naïve teens from underestimating the consequences this might have, or are simply adults who are rather ashamed that we didn’t see that our parents – flawed as they were – might have had our best interests at heart.
There are, of course, some boundaries that need to be tested. Learning to stand your ground and fight your corner is an essential rite of passage for teenagers, as they sit on the precipice of adulthood. Adults are often wrong, whether they have good intentions or not, and the term “I’m trying my best” – however accurate – should not be deployed as a means to silence any critique. It is important to be able to talk about our feelings, particularly if we feel we have been let down – whether or not that could have been avoided.
Both Marino and Tsuladze manage to convey the nuances of these positions superbly. Even when the conflict does escalate, and a screaming match ensues, it never feels that they simply hate each other – more that their anger stems from a frustration somebody they care about so deeply cannot always live up to their standards. It is not resolving that failure, but simply being able to acknowledge its existence, that eventually reconciles the pair – which again, the writing of Lormeau deserves credit for.
Too many family drama shorts look to tie things up in a neat bow – with the conflict seemingly all better now. Things are never so simple, though. These things do not have cut-and-dried solutions. They are not simple fixes. Here, though, Lormeau has found a more realistic kind of resolution, in which shortcomings have been acknowledged – and the possibility things won’t miraculously improve has been mentioned, suggesting these two may still have rough moments in the future. In this case, simply acknowledging that not everything is perfect, that sometimes each character could be better, and that the other is not simply imagining things, is a far more important breakthrough.
Le Trajet is not the first film to focus on the conflict between a struggling parent ‘trying their best’ and a teenager trying to find their voice – and it will not be the last, either. But it is one of precious few which are patient and emotionally intelligent enough not simply to deliver us closure by way of a saccharine reconciliation or an impossible promise that from now on everything will be perfect. Instead, it gives an authentic reflection of two people finally acknowledging flaws in themselves and each other and loving each other regardless.