Review by Camden Ferrell
Sibyl is the newest film from director Justine Triet (In Bed with Victoria). This movie premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and was also an official selection of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2019 New York Film Festival. This is an ambitious film that has great performances but ultimately loses its initial momentum.
The titular character is a psychotherapist who becomes disenchanted with her work, so she decides to focus solely on writing her novel. However, she receives a new patient, Margot, an up-and-coming actress. Sibyl slowly becomes obsessed with Margot as she provides inspiration for her novel and simultaneously battles with her past. This is a unique take on a similar premise between artist and muse, and it’s a premise that isn’t explored to its fullest potential.
Triet and Arthur Harari’s script is an interesting examination of the tumultuous lives of these two women. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky, but it deals with sensitive topics such as abortion in a really unique way that isn’t done very often. Some moments do come off as convoluted and tired, but the script is very original and symbolic if nothing else.
The performances in this movie are really great throughout. Virignie Efira plays Sibyl, and she has an interesting way of capturing the character’s complexity. This is best observed through the parallel moments as she conflicts with her past, and it’s a performance that adds more entertainment value to the film. Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) plays Margot in performance that pales in comparison to Efira, but it is one that is still enjoyable and very inspired.
The first half of this movie lays the foundation of the narrative in a way that isn’t expository or boring, but unfortunately the film squanders the set-up of its first half. There’s a specific moment that shifts the pace drastically, and it is somewhat off-putting. The latter half of the film has a tendency to meander at times, and it doesn’t have do much else to explore the relationship between the two women. However, the film’s final act does feature some great moments of conflict and tension.
Triet’s execution of certain scenes are well-done, tasteful, and it’s yet another case for more female representation behind the camera. The way she lets her female characters interact is pretty fascinating for the most part. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, there are a fair amount of meandering moments later in the movie that significantly impact the perceived quality of the film.
It’s very clear upon watching this film that it’s bound to be polarizing. It’s an ambitious piece of cinema that won’t appeal to a large number of viewers. There are complex themes throughout, and Triet explores obsession, loss, and regret in a nuanced way that will not be for everyone.
Sibyl benefits from its cast and refreshing perspective, but it ultimately suffers greatly from its loss of momentum and convoluted moments. For those looking for a challenging piece of art with limited appeal, this may be for you. Otherwise, this is not the most crowd-pleasing film for a general audience.
Sibyl opens in virtual cinemas September 11. A list of participating theaters can be found here.