Cannes 2017 Review: Michel Franco’s APRIL’S DAUGHTER Is An Unlikely Success

Best go in cold to wring the most out of this family drama.

There’s much to admire about Michel Franco’s April’s Daughter. First, there’s the opening shot – a curvy girl cutting vegetables, overhearing the overbearing sounds of sex emanating from behind a door. After the thumping stops, a younger, prettier teen girl emerges to grab a snack, her nakedness as matter-of-fact as her demeanour. When she emerges to walk to the balcony, shameless and sweaty, we notice the pregnant belly.

So begins a story of two sisters, the teen Valeria (Valeria Becerril), and the sad eyed Clara (Joanna Larequi) and in that single shot one gets entirely the interplay between siblings. Soon the babydaddy Mateo (Enrique Arrizon) emerges, all curly locks and tanned skin. The peacefulness of their Puerto Vallartan home is interrupted when the owner/mother returns, having been tipped off by Clara despite a promise to keep the news from mom. Abril (Emma Suarez) arrives like a warm-winded gust, full of energy and excitement but disruptive of the calm. 

When the girl is born things get complicated, as Valeria’s youthful enthusiasm comes into conflict with the reality of the situation. Similarly, Abril’s ability to let her daughter make mistakes of her own takes a very dark turn, resulting in much of the films second and third acts.

You’re likely going to wring the majority of enjoyment from this work for knowing little more than this, as the austere staging and distant characters are assisted by the general novelty of the storyline that easily could have been the stuff of farce. Instead, and almost implausibly, Franco manages to take this over-the-top storyline to emotionally complex stages, getting the most of what in less steady hands could have been the stuff of some soap opera.

That’s not to say there aren’t stumbles along the way, and times where the narrative is more than a little telegraphed. Yet these overt elements are overridden mostly by delicate moments that are cinematically compelling. Trade the awkwardly staged car “action” scene, for example, with the discussions between Abril and Clara, or see the real pain in Mateo’s eyes when he feels as trapped as the audience might in this web of relations.

In the end the shift of allegiances and motivations becomes a bit convoluted, and Valeria doesn’t quite earn the shift that takes place. The film may be better when recognized that the supposed catharsis of the conclusion in actual fact may be quite the disaster, and closure shouldn’t be confused with an actual happy ending. Still, almost despite itself April’s Daughter manages to work on the whole. It’s hardly revelatory stuff, but there’s some great moments of performance, some interesting directorial decisions, and a storyline that may not be ripe for rewatch but at least generated enough emotional suspense to keep things rolling along.