March 21, 2005
When the Sea Rises..., 2004
Each day, a struggling touring comic named Irène (Yolande Moreau) checks out of a modest hotel, packs a large, aluminum gear case and a wooden chair into the trunk of her Peugeot, drives through long stretches of empty, rural roads along the northern towns straddling the Franco-Belgian border, sets up her minimal equipment on the stage of a small theatrical venue (often, local clubs, town auditoriums, nursing homes, and converted classrooms), selects a volunteer "chicken" from the audience who will act as her partner in crime for the comedy skit, performs her comedy routine before an animated crowd, checks into a convenient hotel in town, and calls her supportive husband and daughter to dispense and receive equal measures of advice, encouragement, and affection before turning in for the evening. It is a lonely and uneventful, but personally fulfilling routine that Irène knows all too well, buoyed by her brief, yet affectionate connection with her appreciative audience, the adrenaline rush of the performance, and the warmth and generosity of the townspeople she meets along the way, until one fateful day when Irène becomes stranded on a empty stretch of road and is assisted by a flighty, but genial parade float conductor named Dries (Wim Willaert). Marking the debut feature film of actress turned filmmaker Yolande Moreau, When the Sea Rises... is an irrepressibly eccentric, thoughtful, and infectiously whimsical comedy on loneliness and emotional synchronicity. Inspired by Moreau's own experiences as a traveling comic during the 1980s, the film affectionately captures the laid back, free-spirited, and interpersonal indigenous character of the northern border towns that, as the filmmaker comments, "do not take themselves too seriously". Following in the similar vein of idiosyncratic, bittersweet, muted kitsch comedies often associated with Swiss and Belgian cinema, and infused with the intimate insight of Moreau's first-hand experience and clear passion for the region and her craft, the film is a quietly observed portrait of the disconnected lives of traveling performers, and a humble and tender love letter to a surrogate community that had nurtured and supported her career before achieving fame and success.