Les Petites Vacances (Stolen Holidays), the feature film debut of Olivier Peyon, stars veteran of the Nouvelle Vague Bernadette Lafont as a French grandmother who goes AWOL with her young grandchildren. While there is a streak of rebelliousness in the teenage girl in her charge, it’s the older woman’s bid for freedom that’s at the centre of the story.
Danielle has to take the children to their father’s house for the Easter vacation but him not being there to meet them causes her to take flight with them for an unplanned holiday. From then on, her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic until it reaches downright reckless proportions, with little regard for what’s best for the youngsters.
Mind you, Danielle’s daughter and her divorced husband are absent parents who don’t seem in a rush to get the children back. We hear that they are very concerned about the disappearance but they don’t make much effort to track them down, instead sending the children’s uncle to find them.
The film is slow-moving and it’s some time before we begin to realise the situation the family is in. It gradually becomes clear that Danielle is going through some kind of crisis and is using the opportunity to escape from the responsibilities thrust upon her by a demanding husband and daughter. If her sense of care towards her grandchildren is suspect at times, she’s clearly been taken for granted for years.
The early signs of her waywardness are simple enough, from picking wild flowers (not a big thing but illegal and disregarding for the rules of the countryside), to ignoring phone calls and eventually dropping her mobile phone into the lake. She flirts and dances with a man at the hotel (a cameo by Claude Brasseur, another veteran of French cinema), drives the children into the mountains of Switzerland and eventually sabotages their return home by putting diesel in the car.
By this stage, it’s difficult to identify with her yearning for escape, understandable up to now, as she starts to disregard the distress of her young charges and puts them in a position of some danger.
This isn’t an intense character study certainly it’s a film short on plot with a shaggy dog story feel to it but a gentle look at the needs of an older woman seeking something beyond the mundane which clashes with the responsibilities foist upon her.
Lafont gives a believable enough performance and it’s very much her film. We never find out quite what triggers the crisis in her life and there are no big conclusions. The bid for freedom from a life devoted to the needs of others is recognisable enough but inflicting the consequences on a couple of vulnerable youngsters makes for uncomfortable viewing at times.