Usually associated with crime-related drama (A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Dheepan), writer-director Jacques Audiard has been French cinema’s most consistent contemporary auteur. But he recently took a sidestep with an English-language Western, The Sisters Brothers, and for his latest film he’s trying something different again. The French title is Les Olympiades – after a high-rise project in southern Paris’s 13th arrondissement which provides the film’s setting.
This is a comedy-drama of 21st-century sexual and social manners, set among the young local residents. Emilie (played by terrific newcomer No 1, Lucie Zhang) hails from a Taiwanese immigrant family, enjoying the single life but hating her dreary telesales job. Camille (equally terrific newcomer No 2, Makita Samba) is a literary teacher who becomes Emilie’s no-strings lover when he replies to her flatmate ad. Nora (Noémie Merlant, from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire) is a Sorbonne student whose life is turned upside down when she is mistaken for online sex worker “Amber Sweet” – played in blonde wig and heavy tattoos by Savages’ Jehnny Beth. Shot in diamond-hard black and white and edited at a brisk, sometimes euphoric pace, Les Olympiades reinvents the classic Parisian crossed-loves drama for a new, multiracial generation more familiar with Tinder and cam sex than the old romantic codes of amour fou.
Based – somewhat tenuously – on three stories by American graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, and co-written for the screen by Petite Maman and Girlhood’s Céline Sciamma, this is Audiard’s most female-focused movie to date. Its coincidences and tangled fates don’t always entirely convince, but it’s a coolly joyous blast all the same.