Justine Triet’s Sibyl is a new French drama-comedy in the form of a realistic story of imperfect women. The messiness begins when the titular character (Virginie Efira) decides she is going to quit her occupation as a therapist to pursue her dream of writing. What Sibyl doesn’t realize —or is choosing to ignore — is this steady job that focuses on fixing other people’s problems is keeping her own deep emotional pain suppressed and her sobriety in check.
One night, Sibyl is interrupted from her writing by a late call from an up and coming actress — Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos) — whose desperation can be heard through her sobs. Sibyl first tries to explain her recent change in profession but ultimately decides to take this stranger on as a patient hoping to get the juicy scoop that might motivate an incredible novel. Blinded by her own selfishness, Sibyl doesn’t consider the similarities with Margot’s current dilemma and her own past experiences. The more Margot relies on her therapist, the more Sibyl’s own underlying emotional baggage surfaces giving her the chance to either sort through her own past or forsake her sobriety for a drink (or ten).
I know these brief details of the film sound more depressing than anything to laugh about and usually films that deal with similar themes take a more serious route to explore the ins and outs of mental health and addiction. This is what makes Sibyl so unique. The protagonist uses a dark and clever sarcasm to deal with her pain making the overall tone of the movie irreverent. The events being shown on-screen are from Sibyl’s perspective and — despite her erratic decision-making, lack of boundaries, and history with alcohol abuse — she appears to be a reliable narrator. The events unfolding from this personal subjective allow for the audience to trust and sympathize with Sibyl even during her worst moments. This isn’t necessarily to condone her actions but to understand the unspoken emotional pain that is the motivation behind each movement.
Though Sibyl chooses to see the similarities between the two, the layers Justine Triet — co-writer and director — creates at the beginning slowly start to fade, little by little. This subtle technique allows the audience to see the biggest difference between the doctor and her patient: that while Sibyl has pushed down anything hard and painful for over a decade, refusing to work through her trauma, Margot is looking at her problems directly and figuring out how to cope with them from the very start. This doesn’t make Margot better than Sibyl or vice versa.
Though the film has interesting plot and characters and is cinematically decent to look at, my fear is Sibyl will get lost amongst the multitudes of movies released this year. Her story is a bit niche but I am exactly the audience she is targeting.
Triet’s resume includes documentary which is evident in the complexity of the two main characters. They are complicated, rough, irrational, and flawed which is what makes them relatable. They are captured in a humane manner without their everyday problems or mental health issues ever being exploited. The talented actors cast as the two leads adds to the already vivid cinematic world that is rooted in technical writing and development.
Adele Exarchopoulos really shines as Margot. Her ability to control every aspect of her facial expressions and body language allows her desperation to be seen in the beginning and slowly fade as Margot moves on. I cannot recall another time in a movie where a character actually has those little puffy hiccups that happen after too much crying but Exarchopoulos makes it happen.
From the beginning to end, Sibyl deals with a beautiful mess of emotions that is a direct result of asinine decision making and is a great reminder that we are all human. I mean, who can’t relate to being a little messy?
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