Alice Theobald is here to give you vivid, traumatising flashbacks to that French GCSE you never passed, and Duoloingo lessons you never did.
Her film installation at South London Gallery follows a woman – played by the artist, who is bilingual – having a French lesson with Thibault de Montalembert, who you might recognise from Call My Agent. She recites line after line beginning with ‘il y aura’, ‘there will be’. There will be a housemaid, there will be a bus running late, there will be a very beautiful chic boutique. The tutor nudges her along, corrects her grammar gently. But the phrases start getting weirder and more surreal, and she begins to stumble on the tenses, the pronunciation, the syntax. The tutor gets agitated and threatening, looming over her, stalking her around the room. She stumbles more and more, stutters, her voice wobbles. She spills her drink, they dance, she falls on the sofa. It’s the nastiest, strangest French lesson ever.
It’s a brutally anxiety-ridden film, it leaves you tense, nervous, teeth-grindingly uncomfortable. It’s great.
But it’s not just about a French lesson. It’s about language barriers that will never fully fall, communication that will never be truly fluent, ideas that will never be perfectly expressed. The character here is trying to say things and only ever almost getting there.
Theobald has thrown grammar, language and fiction into a pot, and made a cassoulet that tastes of pure tension and discomfort. Bon appetit.