Social commentary, feminist anthem, broad comedy with a side of rom com – Louis-Julien Petit’s Les Invisibles is a marvellous genre-bending confection.
That these dimensions don’t fuse seamlessly, but often collide, only serves to underline and expose the messiness of its heroines’ lives – these ‘invisibles‘ society left behind.
Audrey and Manu run a day shelter for homeless women, offering them a warm shower, hot meal, a little camaraderie and some necessary career guidance. When municipal officials decide that the centre isn’t helping get enough people off the streets and back to work, they shut it down, leaving Audrey and Manu to deal with the consequences. The two soon decide to keep it open clandestinely, allowing their girls to stay there overnight while training them during the day to become confident and functioning members of society.
Audrey Lamy lends her namesake tremendous empathetic power as she shifts from giddy optimism to despair, while Déborah Lukumuena is extremely affecting as the well-meaning but hyper-sensitive Angélique. It’s unclear throughout whether she’s a volunteer or client (she’s been homeless in the past); her presence a constant reminder of the characters’ liminal and tenuous place in society.
Much of Les Invisibles’ success lies in Petit’s light yet whip-smart observations and his savvy decision to cast not only seasoned actresses, such as Lamy and Noémie Lvovsky, but former homeless women too – adding depth and pathos to the harrowing plot. Chief among them, 70-year-old Adolpha van Meerhaeghe is the film’s revelation and a force to be reckoned with as Chantal, a rough-sleeper who served a hefty prison sentence for killing her abusive husband.
Disarmingly honest and tender, Petit’s second feature film sparkles with hope.