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Das Zimmer der Wunder (The Book of Wonders, La chambre des merveilles)
France 2023

Opening 16 May 2024

Directed by: Lisa Azuelos
Writing credits: Juliette Sales, Julien Sandrel, Fabien Suarez
Principal actors: Alexandra Lamy, Muriel Robin, Hugo Questel, Xavier Lacaille, Martine Schambacher

It must be the worst nightmare for a mother when she stands to lose her own child. Based on the 2018 bestselling first novel by Julien Sandrel, French director Lisa Azuelos is best known for films LOL (2012) and Dalida (2016) in making a warm-hearted, emphatic adaptations for the big screen. Alexandra Lamy, who is a well-known movie, television and stage actress in France, but less known here than her colleagues Juliette Binoche or Isabelle Huppert, plays Thelma, a single mother working in a rather boring job in the distribution center of a big supermarket chain, constantly bullied by her unsympathetic boss. She is devastated when her twelve-year-old son Louis (Hugo Questel) falls into a coma after being hit by a truck, when they were walking together and Thelma got distracted by yet another phone call from her boss.

One sleepless night at home she lies down in her son's bed, and accidentally finds his diary underneath his pillow. Next to beautiful drawings she didn't know her son had the talent to draw, she finds a kind of bucket list in which Louis names ten things he wants to do before the end of the world, as—like he put it—“the end can come sooner than one might think.” The first point on the list Louis had checked off just shortly before his accident. Thelma had been puzzled about it, as he had hit a much older and stronger boy, and for what reason?... But the list continues, and visiting her son in hospital, she suddenly has the crazy idea only a desperate mother can have, to check off all the remaining tasks instead of Louis, in the hope that by doing so, and telling him about it, her son would come out of his coma.

Here the film gets a little bit “unrealistic” as we see the somewhat straightforward and outspoken, but also naïve Thelma, who has found the group of skateboarders Louis used to hang out with, who are much older than Louis and treat him as their mascot, going skateboarding down a famous skateboard ride, La Balinaise, in La-Seyne-sur-Mer. That is nothing compared to the task of getting Louis's skateboard autographed by a famous Japanese manga artist, who lives as a recluse in Tokyo. So we suddenly see Thelma in the middle of the famous Shibuya crossing, just with her small backpack and Louis's skateboard, asking strangers on the street where to find this person called KGI. I said it is getting a bit “unrealistic,” but the story is told and acted so lovingly that it is easy to accept the improbability of the plot. Of course, Thelma ends up getting her autograph (and the end of that particular story has a nice twist as well).

The list continues, for example with a trip to Portugal, where Thelma swims with whales, and the not so easy task to find Louis's father, whom he had never met. During all this, Thelma's mother Odette (Muriel Robin), who is initially sceptical of her daughter's plans, becomes more and more supportive of her daughter, as time is passing. Louis has turned thirteen while in hospital, more than six months in the coma.

We come to the last point to be checked off the list, which is to write to himself who he (or she, since she is writing for him) has become ten years from then, and there I wish I had been watching the movie on television, enabling me to rewind, as an incredible amount of things happen in the last minutes of the movie. So, my advice, when you are watching it, pay close attention, otherwise you might not understand the ending.

The film is beautiful, no doubt, the acting too is wonderful, and it is one of those films which stays with you for some time. It makes you think about the ephemerality and fleetingness of life. So touching when the mother, Thelma, is shocked to realize how little in fact she knew about her son, his thoughts, his friends, his dreams, and now all she wants is to have him back in her life to talk to him about it all. (Ulrike Lemke)

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