Sibyl is a film that feels richer at the margins than at the center, largely by design and to its credit.
Victoria, Justine Triet’s last film, opens with Virginie Efira curled up on a couch asking her therapist where, exactly, her life became unstuck. Efira occupies the psychiatrist’s chair in Sibyl — the French director’s latest, in which she again plays the eponymous lead — but she still can’t hold things together. In fact, she might not want to. Professional success, a twelve-step program to help keep the proverbial plug in the jug, and domestic stability with hot dad Paul Hamy are sober pleasures when measured against the intoxicating vicissitudes of the writer’s life. After years of artistic abstinence, a troubled patient and an equally troubled film shoot prove too much temptation for Sibyl, who spies some worthwhile material, picks up her pen, and promptly dives headlong into a breakdown. Triet, for her part, lacks a juicy authorial angle of her own: Sibyl’s backlot drama never achieves the whirligig energy that made Victoria such a superlative screwball, and while most movies in this genre tell us that filmmaking is a job like any other, the particulars of Triet’s own profession seem to blunt her otherwise sharp sense for credible, if slightly exaggerated, work-life detail.
The result is a movie that feels richer at the margins than at the center. Hamy, for instance, needs only a handful of scenes to steal the show: one or two puppy-eyed glances are sufficient to communicate that he long ago resigned himself to playing second fiddle in Sibyl’s life — and that he loves her deeply nevertheless. The film set backdrop, with actors milling about everywhere, does, however, deepen the impression that Sibyl’s personal and artistic crises are more performative than acutely psychological: her return to writing is itself a kind of fiction, one which allows her space to enact forms of discontent and self-loathing that might, in the context of her day job and her domestic situation, lead to ruin. Making a movie or authoring a book, no matter how mediocre the material — and the glimpses we get suggest that these works-in-progress are very mediocre indeed — grants us permission to vogue around in emotional attire that we wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, flaunt at work or at home. If Sibyl wears her neuroses like a strange fit, well, I’d venture that that’s precisely the point. Triet makes movies to assure us that our lives aren’t always the shambles that we pretend them to be. Unless, of course, we prefer them that way.