It’s hard to think of two subjects less suitable to representation in cinema than writing and therapy. No amount of text flying across the screen can distract from the fact that writing is an internal, boring creative process – while therapy involves people vomiting up their feelings, making it the laziest and least satisfying tool in the storyteller’s toolbox.
It’s to Justine Triet’s credit, then, that Sibyl isn’t totally unwatchable, given that it’s about a therapist who’s trying to write a novel. Virginie Efira plays Sibyl, who’s drawn to one of her patients, Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Margot’s a mess; she’s an actress who’s involved with her co-star on her latest movie – ominously titled “Never Talk to Strangers” – and she’s become unexpectedly pregnant. She clings hard to Sibyl, and eventually asks her to fly out with her to set, on the volcanic island of Stromboli. Sibyl, bizarrely, agrees.
It doesn’t take us very long to realise that Sibyl is bad at her job. She plunders Margot’s life for creative inspiration, as well as her own, erotically tinged memories – she seems to have no interest in actually helping her. The early stretches of the film are boring, talkative with little forward propulsion, but things pick up when the protagonist arrives on-set and starts interfering with the love triangle of Margot, her now ex-boyfriend of a co-star, Igor (Gaspard Ulliel), and the director, Mika, played by Sandra Hüller.
Hüller is best known for her lead performance in Maren Ade’s tragicomic masterwork Toni Erdmann, and she is, far and away, the best thing about Sibyl. Her comedic timing is impeccable; she plays the director as both deadpan and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and her growing impatience with the demanding Margot is uproariously funny. She’s so good that she unbalances the film – no-one can rise to her standard whenever she’s off-screen, and the result is something otherwise flat and forgettable.
Sibyl does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.