80/100 (95 min, 2010)
Plot: Marc is a successful real estate agent in Aix-en-Provence. One day, he has an appointment with a woman to view a traditional country house. A few hours later, Marc finally puts a name to her face. It's Cathy, the girl he was in love with growing up in Oran, Algeria, in the last days of the French colonial regime.
Director: Nicole Garcia
Writers: Jacques Fieschi (scenario), Nicole Garcia (scenario), Natalie Carter (collaboration) & Frédéric Bélier-Garcia (collaboration)
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Marie-Josée Croze and Toni Servillo
"When I never spoke and you never looked at me"
"Un Balcon sur la Mer" is a delicate and fascinating mixture of romance and thriller. The film's director Nicole Garcia, who was born in Oran, Algeria, when Algeria was a French colony, had to flee in 1962 at Independence, because of the violence that erupted in the area. She clearly had a lot of memories from this time, not all of them bad. That is the heart and the reason of existence of this movie -the memories, the blend of sweet and bitter, that we never forget. The memories in this film deal with friendship and love between teenagers perhaps the sweetest they will ever know, surrounded by violence, senseless attacks and the threat of death.
The film follows Marc, who is married to his boss's daughter and who is a father himself. He appears to be happy, having a loving family and good career as a real estate agent. But the havoc comes in his life when he recognizes his childhood sweetheart Cathy in his new client. We don't know it at first, though. The slick trick the film plays on us is that we know less than the characters we are watching. We see them act and only then we find out why they acted this way. So at first we see Marc looking as if a thunder struck him. And then we see him laughing and crying, as if he found a treasure, he lost a long time ago.
At first we only see Marc and Cathy curiously looking at each other and it's not until the second day that he asks her if he is right, if she is truly his long lost friend. She says yes and they share memories, about the play they were both in, about the candy store across the street. Marc appears to be more affectionate, while Cathy is vary of him and seems unmoved by his affections. That is until the passionate night they spend in a hotel. Then Cathy goes away, but not for forever - she already set a meeting regarding the purchase her firm makes from Marc.
And then, the plot thickens. Marc's mother tells him that Cathy, little girl he loved died shorty after Marc left Algeria. She never told him that because she knew how much he was hurting, just by leaving her there. Marc can't believe it, as he just saw Cathy and they talked for hours about their memories. That is the moment when the film turns from drama into a romantic thriller. It's hard to predict what is happening and when you find out, not only are you going to be surprised but it also makes the story far more interesting and heartbreaking.
Jean Dujardin is excellent as a man who is torn between the comfortable life he leads and the memories that never really left him, that now came back to haunt him even more. Those memories bring him both joy and pain, the sweetness of the first love and the suffering that was to leave her. The best scenes are the ones where he is silently debating what to do, because he knows if makes one more step there will be no going back.
The film moves back and forth between present time and the time Cathy and Marc where kids living in Algeria. Those scenes serve many purposes and come back frequently from another point of view. The movie plays very slick trick on us - at one point Marc is haunted by what he didn't notice and there are many shots in the flashback sequences where we, the audience, also don't notice certain things that are vital to the plot, despite them being right there in front.of us, the whole time.
The film redeems itself in a very beautiful and symbolic ending. The message of the story is that even if you lost something, another beautiful person, another lovely relationship may not be that far away. Two people connected by their memories, tainted with blood and violence, but also adorned with laughter and the magic of childhood are bound together. Some memories can't be erased, an even if they are connected with something painful, you would never give them up.