Directors, especially French ones, like crafting cinematic love letters to actresses, and Christophe Honor’s character study is one monolithic mash note for Chiara Mastroianni. Her Lena, a frazzled mother, has just lost her son in a train station; he’s tending to a bird with a broken wing. (You may officially start the symbolism meter now.) Mastroianni shows she can do angry, nurturing and kooky, all within the film’s first five minutes. As the dynamic among Lena, her siblings and soon-to-be ex-husband drifts into dysfunction at a country chateau, the star adds sorrowful and passionate to her palette. And when she later devolves into a petulant adolescent, Mastroianni demonstrates that her woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown act is second to none.
Viewed as a valentine to a talent dogged by two large parental shadows (dad Marcello and mom Catherine Deneuve), Making Plans for Lena works like gangbusters. Treat the movie as anything else—a family drama, an everyfemme portrait, the film that finally proves that the potential Honor showed in 2004’s Ma mere wasn’t a fluke—and it’s like watching a shaky house of cards tumble. This is a director who revels in making messy, meta-spiced films, but who too often mistakes that dishevelement for approximating real life. One doesn’t automatically equal the other; if Honor keeps banking on this misconception, he may want to consider a backup plan.—David Fear