It’s not exactly clear how old Ellen is, but the world would tell her she’s old enough to know better. The pleasure of watching At Ellen’s Age comes precisely from observing a grown woman take a knowing journey from conformity to radical actions. Ellen is full of surprises, but perhaps never to herself.
Ellen Kolmar (Jeanne Balibar) has a steady, if irregular, life as a Lufthansa flight attendant. But after her husband confesses that he is in the midst of an affair, she suffers a panic attack on the job and is promptly fired. With her entire life turned on its head, Ellen searches for solace in sex and alcohol. But she never could have predicted the incidental fluke that links her with a group of animal activists and sets her on a journey of personal discovery.
Director Pia Marais proved her exceptional skill at character study in her award-winning, debut feature The Unpolished. At Ellen’s Age continues in the same vein; Marais creates psychological complexity with fluidity and ease. As a result, Ellen emerges as a fully-drawn and idiosyncratic character, both recognizable and completely unique.
It comes as no surprise that Marais studied sculpture before filmmaking; her film is shaped by its muscular images, from the metal shells of airplanes to the sinewy bodies of the animals Ellen comes to know on her visits to Africa. In one striking scene, Ellen’s animal liberation friends stage an action by stripping naked and arranging their bodies in giant Styrofoam platters, like meat at the supermarket.
At Ellen’s Age seasons the commonplace with a pinch of the surreal. It’s just enough to make each new turn of the plot offer up a sensation of wonder. And as Marais reveals more and more of Ellen, we come to know her as a woman who deliberately destroys the foundations of her life and opens her arms to whatever comes next. It’s a thrill to watch. –TIFF.net
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This is it, the big final round. You can browse all the previous lineup entries for this year's Toronto International Film Festival (September