‘DNA’ Review: Digging for Roots

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“DNA,” the fifth feature from the French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, opens in clamor and closes in calm. In between is a journey taken by Neige (played by Maïwenn and inspired by her own life) as she moves away from the fractious embrace of her extravagantly maladjusted family and toward her Algerian roots.

A downcast single mother, Neige becomes consumed with reclaiming her ethnicity after her grandfather, an Algerian immigrant to France, dies. As Neige’s rambunctious relatives gather to plan the funeral, the script (which Maïwenn wrote with Mathieu Demy) whips up a froth of vitriolic arguments and barbed confrontations. Old grudges and new hurts swell and subside, each sniping altercation a note in a symphony of dysfunction and deplorable behavior. (At one point, Neige’s mother, played by a blazing Fanny Ardant, roughly shoves her daughter aside as she tries to read a eulogy.)

This tumult, though undeniably invigorating, soon becomes overwhelming, frustrating our ability to determine who’s who and what’s what. So when we meet Neige’s estranged father (a blessedly laid-back Alain Françon), it’s easy to understand why he has kept his distance. And when the film’s focus shrinks to Neige’s troublingly obsessive quest, isolating her in a lonely world of DNA tests and Algerian history — and a possible eating disorder — its tone becomes as wan as her undernourished reflection.

Telling us virtually nothing about Neige beyond her fixation, “DNA” struggles to engage. Even so, there’s a dreamy contentment to the movie’s final moments as she wanders, bathed in golden light and Stephen Warbeck’s lovely score, a woman who has found something she hadn’t known was lost.

DNA
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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