Film Review: MAISON DU BONHEUR (Canada/France 2016) ***1/2

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Maison du bonheur Poster
The day-to-day life of a Parisian astrologer, who has been residing in the same Montmartre apartment for over 50 years.


Subjects of documentaries are often famous people, but only a handful have been about ordinary everyday unimportant folk.  MAISON DU BONHEUR (translated in English to House of Happiness), an occasionally brilliant film is one of the latter.

It was not that long ago in 1975 that Belgian director Chantal Akerman stunned audiences and critics around the world with her 3-hour long art house epic on the daily chores of a housewife.   The film was called 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.  Though a fictional film that ended with the female protagonist committing suicide as did the director herself  recently, the film repeatedly showed the protagonist eating and cooking not once but repeatedly.  Similarly, in MAISON DU BONHEUR, this one an hour long documentary, Torontonian director Sofia Bohdanowicz shows that the daily chores and thoughts of an ordinary person can be just as interesting as a celebrity.

The doc’s subject is Juliane Sellam is a 77-year-old Parisian astrologer who has lived in the same pre-war apartment in Montmartre for half a century.   In this vibrant documentary, Toronto director Sofia Bohdanowicz focuses on Sellam’s daily life over 30 beautifully shot segments, which are narrated by both Sellam and Bohdanowicz. 

When the film opens, Bohdanowicz (she is revealed as a very young filmmaker) is leaving Toronto to stay in Paris with a person she has never met – Juliane Sellam.  Thus she begins filming Sellam’s life, thoughts and musings.

The matriarch’s life and rich inner world crystallize through her daily rituals of making coffee, applying makeup, and caring for her geraniums. 

Bohdanowicz devotes 10 minutes or so on each ritual.  Sellam describes desiring coffee as a young girl.  Her aunt denies her a taste saying that young girls do not drink coffee.  Her grandmother gives her a taste which she loves, just because she was initially not allowed to have any.  Up to the present, Sallen says she has loved coffee.  Bohdanowicz brilliantly shows, on cue, the slow pouring of steaming coffee into a cup.   Sellam puts on make-up daily, even to just take out the rubbish.  She confesses that she wants to look the best for everyone and that no one needs to see an ugly person in the morning  She goes again to the origin of her love for make up.  Her uncle used to be a nail polish salesman and he lets her try his wide array of samples.  The shot of the samples with dozens of painted false nails on  a platter is something I and not seen for 30 years.  Her ritual with gernaniums is just as interesting.  She waters them either late at night or very early in the morning so that people below her flat will not get wet from the water above.  Bohdanowicz never fails to impress her audience with Sellam and her chores.  And her doc goes on…..

The film has a special engagement run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with the director present for a Q & A on the films opening day.



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