In Justine Triet’s Sibyl, a melodramatic Turducken of nesting drama plots fails to congeal into a meaningful feature, but the presentation and acting prowess nearly make-up for its rote and perfunctory screenwriting.

Virginie Efira stars as Sibyl, a therapist who penned a successful novel a decade ago and wants to focus on writing again. To follow this renewed interest, she must drop many of her understandably needy patients, but she retains a few, including new charge Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos), an actress in crisis. Margot is pregnant from an on-set affair with the famous co-star of her new movie, an actor named Igor (Gaspard Ulliel) who himself is in a relationship with their German director (Sandra Hüller).

The set-up is a tangled web fit perfectly for a farce, made even more complicated by Sibyl’s own thorny status quo. The film flits in and out of her past trauma battling alcoholism and her similarly toxic addiction to a former lover, an absent figure who casts a shadow over her present life, as he’s the father of her young daughter. Before the film is swallowed whole by the movie set soap opera of her patient, it is consumed by percussive cuts throughout Sibyl’s own history, shifting back and forth within any given scene to Sibyl’s own memories.

These flashbacks initially give the film an intriguing tone. Images or lines in one scene will trigger a sequence of memories, whether spurned on by Sibyl’s own therapist or a pregnant pause in the present, so the film’s editing feels inspired and you’re never lost in the timeline. There’s a portent to the proceedings that implies her ongoing obsession with Margot will turn more horrific. But Triet seems to just be fucking with the audience, because at the run time mark where one might expect a sex-fueled murder, given the first half’s erotic thriller vibes, the movie pivots into a wicked and mean comedy.

What starts out as Sibyl mining Margot’s tumultuous life transforms into Sibyl physically assisting her on set, being the go-between for her patient who refuses to speak to the director and co-star who forms the final leg of the tragic love triangle that has trapped her. As Sibyl gets caught up in this messy web, it further blurs the lines between her professional life and her strange need for novel fodder, but her ethics are less interesting than the casual cruelty between the leads, and the scenery-chewing hilarity that Hüller gives to his role as the director.

The problem with the film, despite being so beautifully photographed and composed, is that by the time the audience realizes the movie isn’t about Sibyl’s obsession with Margot, broadly, but her need for a sense of control in her own life through the God-like power of writing fiction, specifically, they have already sat through a scaffold of subplots that feel ancillary at best. Her climatic affirmation to start treating her own life like a fiction, and to guide her own protagonist, herself, into healthier territory, rings hollow and cheap in the wake of so many diversions.

As such, Sibyl functions best as a delivery system for some well shot scenes, some charming acting, and a handful of well-crafted moments, but its script leaves too much to be desired to truly resonate.

Summary
Lively performances almost make up for a perfunctory script.
51 %
Intriguing mess
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