“In My Name is Hmmm…, a young French girl named Céline (Lou-Lélia Demerliac), escaping from an abusive home, takes to the back roads of Bordeaux in the company of a Scottish truck driver,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. “This debut feature from Agnès Troublé (the fashion designer and arts patron better known by her nom de couture, agnès b.) is notable for its vibrant sense of color and its acute sensitivity to the inner lives of its characters, particularly Céline, who renames herself Hmmm in an attempt to shed the skin of a painful identity. Her longing for freedom is mirrored in the film’s attempts, mostly successful, to evade its own sentimental impulses and draw closer to the pulse of raw experience.”
Last month, Boyd van Hoeij, dispatching to the Hollywood Reporter from Venice, where it played in the Orizzonti section, found that the film “feels like it’s been directed by someone who might like cinema but has no idea how the different elements of a movie work together, much less how to obtain these on set in the first place. Though clearly well-intentioned, and with French arthouse darling Sylvie Testud (Lourdes, La Vie en Rose) in the flatly acted role of the worried mother, this has practically zero chance of traveling on anything but the brand sexiness of its director, which might explain the film’s Venice and New York festival slots.”
As Steven Zeitchik reports in the Los Angeles Times, agnès b. confirmed Boyd’s suspicion with “a kind of elegant shoulder shrug” at the NYFF press conference. My Name “folds in all manner of stylistic doodads, including freeze frames and swapped-in images of shots taken with different camera equipment.” And when asked about these choices, she said, “I never learned how to make a film so I felt very free and did it exactly the way wanted. I take the responsibility for the film the way it is.”
For Tomas Hachard, writing in Slant, the whole “never coalesces into anything more than playful experimentation.” The Scottish truck driver, by the way, is played by artist Douglas Gordan, whose “character is so nebulous, the source and full scope of his suffering so maddeningly cryptic, that the motivations for [his picking up Céline] and other reckless decisions Peter makes are never entirely clear or credible.” Overall, the “feeling here was perhaps intended to be impressionistic and elusive, but the result is instead rambling and unfocused.”
My Name Is Hmmm… screens tonight and again on Thursday at the New York Film Festival.
Update, 10/14: “Jittery camera movements and an unfortunate penchant for unmotivated cell-shot artiness knock the movie down a few pegs,” writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York, “yet it never quite eclipses the human drama, which is often heartbreaking.”