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Set Me Free

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Set Me Free

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In Set Me Free, a well-observed but largely undistinguished coming-of-age film by Quebecois director Léa Pool, the semi-autobiographical 13-year-old heroine faces a baffling identity crisis. The product of a troubled marriage between a clinically depressed Catholic mother and a harsh Jewish father, she's also grappling with ambiguous sexual proclivities and a confusing transition into womanhood. In the absence of proper guidance, she does what any future director would do and turns to the movies, finding an unlikely role model in Anna Karina, the free-spirited prostitute in Jean-Luc Godard's 1962 masterpiece Vivre Sa Vie (My Life To Live). Played with alertness and sensitivity by Karine Vanasse, the girl navigates through some emotionally treacherous areas while carving out her place in the world. Though hampered by overly precious imagery, particularly in the disappointing final shots, Set Me Free is a knowing portrait of the artist as a young woman, fleshed out with personal detail and nuanced performances. But for all its intelligence and flavor, there's something familiar and rote about the way the story unfolds, as if the demands of the genre forced Pool to omit the messy details that might have given her film a distinct identity. Cutting in numerous passages from a singular French New Wave classic like Vivre Se Vie doesn't exactly help matters, either. Among the sketchily developed supporting characters, the one standout is Emir Kusturica regular Miki Manojlovic, who strikes just the right balance of rage and underlying tenderness as Vanasse's father, a Polish Holocaust survivor without the stability of a job, a country, or a family. Had Pool drawn her heroine's sense of exile as vividly, Set Me Free might have been more memorable.