Jérémie (Nicholas Maury, “Call My Agent!,” “Knife + Heart”) is having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week. First, he’s run out of a “Jealousy Anonymous” meeting. Then, his boyfriend, hunky veterinarian Albert (Arnaud Valois, “BPM”) dumps him, precisely because of said jealousy. He’s been fired from his dream acting role and gave himself a black eye bumping into a wall while running away from another director, Sylvie (Laure Calamy, “Only the Animals”), who is in the throes of her own breakdown.
To top it off, his father, who left his mother for another woman, has died by suicide. Desperate for love, desperate for a job, and just plain desperate, Jérémie makes his way from Paris to his mother’s countryside rental home near Saint-Auvent, seeking comfort and catharsis of some sort.
This is the premise of Maury’s directorial debut, “My Best Part,” which he co-wrote with Maud Ameline and Sophie Fillières. This funny, strange, and elusive character study is a film unlike any other, in a good way. In any other film, a character like Jérémie — quirky, soft-spoken, and feminine — would likely be relegated to the sidelines, as a best-friend type. But Maury makes Jérémie’s journey the centerpiece of this story, and the trip is one well worth taking.
The French title of “My Best Part” is “Garçon Chiffon,” a reference to Jérémie’s nickname, “chiffon” or “napkin,” as he’s called affectionately by his mother, Bernadette (Nathalie Baye). By way of explanation, she says it’s because Jérémie could sleep anywhere as a kid, including in a hutch with rabbits, an anecdote that does not clarify the nickname. It does, however, illustrate the rather absurd, deadpan, and mysterious humor at the center of “My Best Part,” best embodied in the relationship between Jérémie and Bernadette.
There are sprinklings of this unexplained absurdity throughout the film, like the random kittens Jérémie wakes up with at his mother’s home, or his moments of unabashed childlike expression, singing nude on the toilet. Bernadette is equally inexplicable, imparting life lessons with potatoes while grinding sausage, or delivering spritz-fueled speeches about desire and death, but somehow their shared inner logic works.
Jérémie feels like a freak, and he can’t help but get in his own way, especially when it comes to his jealous obsessions that turn into uncontrollable compulsions, sabotaging his relationships. Running away to his mother feels like an escape hatch from his problems, but wherever you go, there you are. Even in the country, he finds someone to be jealous of, like Kevin (Théo Christine) the “practical boy” helping out his mom, who becomes an object of interest to Jérémie as well.
Jérémie’s reconnection with his inner child is also a part of his reckoning with his familial past. Ruminating on his father’s life and death, mourning that he never quite knew him, he makes a half-hearted suicide attempt of his own, jumping off a low bridge. He’s immediately rescued from the river by nuns, who dress him in a blue nightgown while he convalesces overnight at the convent.
Jealousy seems the only way Jérémie can make sense of the world, even though it destroys his relationships and is something he’s avidly trying to obliterate. It’s not until the nuns tell him that jealousy can be a pathway to feeling something else, that he doesn’t have to turn it off or repress it, that the “green-eyed monster” starts to loosen its grip on his psyche.
While “My Best Part” is ostensibly a comedy — and there is a deeply silly and dry-humored rhythm to much of the filmmaking sensibility — there’s an undercurrent of deep melancholy to the film as well, the theme of suicide running throughout. While visiting his mother, Jérémie is learning his lines to audition for the role of Moritz Stiefel in “Spring Awakening.” Although he ruefully asks his manager, “Do you think I’m the right age to play a tortured, suicidal teenager?” Jérémie shares a lot with Moritz, especially the obsessions tumbling around their brains and the torment it causes them.
Jérémie is a part that only Maury could believably and sensitively play, and “My Best Part” is a film that only he could direct. There’s a patience that this film and its dark, gentle silliness require. In the hands of anyone else, the film would be broader, louder, and far more obvious. Instead, it’s an utterly fascinating, mysterious, and often experimental character study of someone who is hard to understand because they fundamentally don’t understand themselves.
Maury embraces the potential to be found in ambiguity, never explaining Jérémie and his relationships, just allowing the audience to observe them unfold in all their complexity. Some audience members won’t enjoy the sensation of playing catch-up to the film, but others will be rewarded for their willingness to dive into something often inexplicable. By the end, when Jérémie suddenly breaks into song, finally singing with the same emotion with which he used to lip-sync as a kid (before he was shamed out of it), it doesn’t matter whether he’s cured of his jealousy, or in love, or satisfied in his career. It’s all a little unclear, and that’s OK.
“My Best Part” opens in Los Angeles and New York City and on demand Feb. 25.