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A philosophical tale ahead of its time, Coline Serreau’s 1996 film imagines a planet where humans have evolved into a society totally connected to nature.
On a distant planet, an advanced and egalitarian human civilisation lives in perfect harmony with nature. It has abandoned the technical progress and lifestyle inherited from the industrial revolution for a simpler existence, devoid of the superfluous and focused on the essential. Thanks to this return to the earth, this society without leaders or hierarchy has developed new faculties, such as telepathy and the ability to travel in time and space. Above all, it lives in peace and assures its members of a life expectancy of over 250 years.
At the last planet meeting, the various delegations noted that, for more than 200 years, no one had volunteered to visit Earth, which has a rather bad reputation. Wars, famines, epidemics, pollution: the blue planet is not envied by these beings with a much more advanced intellectual and spiritual development. They consider it to be backward, corrupt and even incurable. Against all odds, Mila, a woman in the prime of her life, proposes to go there: what she discovers exceeds the worst fears of her people.
A whimsical work
When it was released in September 1996, the film La Belle Verte received a lukewarm reception from the public. It must be said that the feature film by Coline Serreau – author of Trois hommes et un couffin – took the form of a rather whimsical philosophical tale, closer to the magical realism of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s La Montagne sacrée than to a classic science fiction or anticipation story. Its comic dimension did not make this cinematic object immediately perceptible either. But it is above all the critics who have had a field day. At the time, Les Inrockuptibles described it as “an old-fashioned, hackneyed discourse”, “a neo-ecological elegiac reverie”, with a “frankly unpleasant” result.
A quarter of a century later, the film’s direction has aged rather badly, the actors still have the same tendency to overact, and the rare special effects now make us smile. The references to new age spirituality also reinforce the hippy side of this apparently primitive yet highly evolved alien civilisation.
Ahead of its time
However, in the end, the film was right. Global warming has become a daily reality, and air, water and soil pollution a threat to the whole of humanity. Technology has demonstrated its limits, while a more natural and less mechanised agriculture is gaining ground in people’s minds. An environmentalist fable that is perhaps a little naive, La Belle Verte tackles themes that seemed zany in 1996. But nowadays, ecology, feminism, pacifism, the defence of social and humanist values, the philosophy of nature, anti-conformism, or even degrowth are all areas that are taken very seriously, whether or not we agree with them. This certainly explains why the work has had a second life on the Internet, even becoming a cult for a community of fans. In 2009, on the occasion of the release of La Belle verte on DVD, Coline Serreau said that her film had certainly been “too far ahead of its time”.
La Belle verte by Coline Serreau, with Vincent Lindon, James Thierrée, Samuel Tasinaje, Marion Cotillard, Claire Keim, Yolande Moreau, Patrick Timsit, and Denys Podalydès, 1h39