Film Reviews

Review: ‘Maison du Bonheur’

Hot Docs 2017

Courtesy of Hot Docs


Maison du Bonheur
(Canada, 64 min.)
Dir. Sofia Bohdanowicz
Programme: World Showcase (North American Premiere)

Taking a trip to Paris, director Sofia Bohdanowicz visits with Juliane Sellam, the grandmother of a colleague, for her second feature film Maison du Bonheur. Sellam, a 77-year old astrologer who has lived in her lovely Montmartre home for half a century, shares with us her everyday life. Intimately capturing Sellam’s enchanting storytelling as well as her charming daily routine, Maison du Bonheur is as much an idiosyncratic portrait of Sellam as it is a personal journey for Bohdanowicz as creator.

The film is strikingly shot in 16mm, and presents itself in a vibrant palette. In still shots, Bohdanowicz films objects of beauty and contentment (flowers, a pastry, a sequined dress, vintage shoes), allowing their allure full command of the screen. Throughout this lovely doc, Bohdanowicz brings together opposing ideas. Paired with its visual style, which delights in a calm display of life’s pleasures, is Sellam’s narration. She jumps from anecdote to anecdote, musing on childhood and family bonds. Her thoughts move from makeup and fashion to her relation with food, whether that involves the fond memories of her own grandmother sharing a cup of coffee, or the importance of baking bread on the Sabbath. Despite the diverse topics she covers, Bohdanowicz focuses in on central themes of domesticity: food, family, beauty.

A symbiotic relationship is formed between director and subject. Sellam lends herself to Bohdanowicz’s film, while the director presents herself as author: allowing us to hear her daily filming logs and directorial instructions, it is impossible to forget who is the creative agent. But despite Bohdanowicz’s leading role, she takes direction from the older woman. Nearing the end of the film, Sellam guides Bohdanowicz by reading her astrological chart.

Bohdanowicz has her own influences: it is impossible to watch this film without recalling the earlier work of Agnès Varda, especially the 1967 film Le Bonheur with its own still shots of everyday beauty and focus on women’s domestic work. Within a film where she never gives up her own creative agency, Bohdanowicz allows herself to be guided by an older generation of women, personally and cinematically, allowing their influences to enrich her work, in the same way that astrological knowledge is presented as enriching character. With absorbing narrative variety paired with great aesthetic unity, Maison du Bonheur reverentially depicts the significance of a feminine legacy.

Maison du Bonheur screens:
-Wednesday, May 3 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 8:45 PM
-Thursday, May 4 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 10:15 AM
-Friday, May 5 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 3:45 PM

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!