Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s My Friend Victoria, opening at the Gene Siskel Film Center for a week-long run this Friday, is the first great movie to receive a theatrical release in Chicago in 2016. Adapted from a Doris Lessing short story (but with the action transplanted from London to Paris), this astute slice-of-life drama functions as an uncommonly incisive critique of race, class and gender. The premise: In an emergency, Victoria (Guslagie Malanga), an orphan girl of African descent, spends the night by chance with a wealthy Parisian family, the Staveneys.
As a young adult, Victoria reconnects with the Staveneys, again by chance, and gives birth to a child by Thomas (Pierre Andrau), the family’s youngest son. The cautious way that the friendly, ostensibly liberal Staveneys interact with the alienated Victoria and their new biracial granddaughter, while always unfolding subtly and naturalistically as drama, reveals more about life in contemporary France than what one could find in any sociology textbook. Here, writer and director Civeyrac foregoes the small scale of his previous films—singular chamber dramas noted for their ambiguously supernatural overtones and uniquely dark, naturally lit interiors—in favor of a more expansive and realistic, though no less poetic, societal portrait.
More information about My Friend Victoria can be found on the Siskel Center's website.