review for Olivier, Olivier on AllMovie

Olivier, Olivier (1992)
by Brian J. Dillard review

Although similar in premise to The Deep End of the Ocean, Ulu Grosbard's 1999 child-abduction melodrama, this earlier film by Agnieszka Holland sketches the same scenario with a more exotic palette, one that eschews stock realism for hallucinatory intensity. Brigitte Roüan is compelling as the grief-ravaged mother of the missing boy Olivier, while Gregoire Colin and Marina Golovine, as the teenaged Olivier and the sister who doubts his identity, mix shrewd acting with smouldering sensuality. Indeed, the entire film is suffused in grittily libidinous atmosphere, from the cluttered interiors to the lush countryside exteriors and squalid Paris street scenes. A bleak, unexpected love scene between the missing boy's parents is so rife with Freudian subtext that it's truly disturbing. When the sudden denouement exposes the rancid underbelly of all this unchecked sexual energy, it's as if viewers are being wrenched awake from a half-unfolded dream. Some audiences were turned off by the film's unlikely plot twists, others by the gratuitously transgressive sexuality (incest, boy prostitution) on display. The element that truly rankles, however, is the tentative stab at magic realism. The primal power of emotional archetypes is the film's central preoccupation; the script's allusions to psychic powers merely sidestep the need for a plausible scenario in which to explore that theme. As an evocation of inner lives, Olivier, Olivier is remarkably accomplished. Its chief weakness, then, is that it doesn't know what to do with the facts and circumstances of the external world.