Film Review: Urville

Wistful documentary about utopia just misses the mark.

Urville, a mythical society, inspired filmmaker Angela Christlieb to search for a real-life counterpart around the French countryside. Audiences seeking the offbeat should appreciate Urville’s understated, bittersweet aura.

Christlieb first introduces us to Urville’s origins. We learn that a French artist created the idea of a Mediterranean island where everything works perfectly and all citizens are content. Next, Christlieb takes a road trip to three cities in the French provinces that claim the Urville name: Vosges plain, Calvados and Aube. Naturally, the three rural locations cannot live up to the Urville ideal, but the inhabitants—from farmers to real estate entrepreneurs to politicians—try mightily to achieve a societal excellence.

That Urville leaves open the idea such a place might exist makes the film more reverie than documentary. Christieb never pokes fun at the concept, so we are hardly in mockumentary territory, nor is her lyrical travelogue in the same league as Russ Hexter’s Dadetown (1995), with the latter’s shock ending where everything real is actually fake. Urville explores states of mind as much as actual locales by engaging individuals to discuss their hopes, fears and desires.

Just as in her first film about people obsessed with movies and moviegoing, Cinemania (2002), Christlieb demonstrates her care and concern for optimistic oddballs. Her humanism has a touching quality that shines through the eccentricities on display. (The Gallic politician in the first Urville dresses like a Native American and lives in a teepee.)

Yet Urville, the movie, isn’t any more perfect than the faux-Urvilles Christlieb visits. The one-note theme makes each city visit seem like a repetition of the last. We might also wonder why all the Urvilles are in the French provinces and not other parts of Europe or the world. Wouldn’t the film have been more interesting if Urvilles existed everywhere? Perhaps they do, in fact, but we wouldn’t know it from seeing this film. Despite this limitation, Urville is still worth the trip.