With an opening sequence of exploding fireworks in a cart, nail polish scattered on a desk, and a young teen sneaking a boy out of her room, Matriochkas is the epitome of coming-of-age indie cinema. Set in the sun-drenched South of France, the film is centered around a sixteen-year-old girl named Anna (Héloïse Volle) who is a feminist in the making. Comfortable with exploring her sexuality, Anna is stridently outspoken and unrepressed by many of societies expectations of women. Her bold demeanor is undoubtedly inherited by her young mother Rebecca (Victoire Du Bois) who is still in a phase of sexual exploration herself.
At the heart of Matriochkas is a realistically multi-layered relationship between a once teen mom and her teenage daughter. Having devoted her childhood to raising a kid of her own, Rebecca makes up for lost time by living out her young adult years while still being a supportive mother to Anna. This creates a household dynamic that mirrors a hectic college environment. Random men and strangers are constantly coming in and out, and parties are a routine occurrence. Rebecca and Anna’s lifestyle and relationship are far from traditional but they make it work.
Like many teenagers, Anna faces an internal battle. She wants the freedom and independence she sees in adults like her mother but also continues to hold on to her instincts to just be a kid with no responsibilities or repercussions. To her surprise, a positive pregnancy test quickly makes that decision for her. This shocking news further fuels Anna’s struggles and causes her to realize that she doesn’t want to be a repeat of her mother’s life. This places a wedge in their seemingly close relationship when Rebecca is disturbed by the mere mention of an abortion. It’s almost as if Anna’s desire to terminate the pregnancy is a reflection on Rebecca and her parenting skills. It says to Rebecca that Anna doesn’t want to give her child the same life Rebecca has given her.
Anna ends up turning to the only adult male figure in her life for help, which is her mother’s ex-boyfriend. The film leaves the audience questioning if Anna and Rebecca’s relationship will ever be the same. Wondering if the juvenile or matured sides of both their characters will take control in this complicated situation. Volle and Du Bois’ acting perfectly capture this complex issue. They bring authenticity to their performances by not overdramatizing the events and showing a balanced amount of love and friction in their relationship.
Filled with the chirp of summer cicadas and French hip hop, Matriochkas’ soundscape creates a youthful and nostalgic atmosphere that is further emphasized by the bright and clashing colors seen in the costume design, production design, and cinematography. Above the excellent production value lies the important message that the film leaves the audience with. So many women around the world are taught to feel dirty and ashamed of their sexual desires rather than how to navigate those desires in a safe and responsible way. Matriochkas sheds light on this taboo subject that needs to be talked about, inviting its audience to join the long overdue conversation.