Showing in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section, Léonor Serraille makes her directorial feature debut with Jeune Femme; and what a debut it is. In a year that Cannes purportedly aims to focus on women directors, Serraille is surely one that we’ll be seeing plenty of on the festival circuit and beyond in the future. And as she said when presenting the film, hopefully the gender factor and the term ‘female director’ will become a discussion point of the past. That said, Jeune Femme is an unashamedly woman’s film with a predominantly female cast and crew. But don’t let the words ‘woman’s film’ deter you: this is a fantastic film on all levels, not least its lead, Laetitia Dosch.

Dosch plays Paula and we first meet her trying to bash down her ex’s door, head-butting it and landing herself in hospital. As the frazzled woman tries to explain her relationship to the doctor, we worry that this unhinged and fragile woman may be on the road to being committed or to committing suicide. She steals her boyfriend’s cat, gets kicked out of her friend’s house, has no money and when she checks in to a seedy hotel, it looks bad for our heroine. But as the film progresses, and as Paula drags herself up and out of one difficult situation after another, we see her not so much as unhinged as unique.

Jeune FemmeHer past is patched together from the conversations she has with doctors, old friends, her mother or would-be employers. We know that Paula has never held down a steady job, because we hear it from her mum, but to see her being interviewed is a treat. And when she knocks on the door of a woman looking for a nanny, there is a neat visual surprise for the woman looks like a glossier, richer version of Paula. This woman has it all and it is a life not unlike the one Paula imagined for herself with her much older ex-boyfriend and teacher Joachim (Grégoire Monsaingeon), a pretentious photographer who earned fame for his photos of Paula. When Paula gets the job she’s a natural, and the sulky, lonely girl learns to love her nutcase nanny. Meanwhile, the cat is ensconced in the new home and it’s a shame there is no Palme Cat, for this mog would be a clear winner. When Paula gets a job selling lingerie, she’s pretty good at that too, and there is a realisation both for the audience and for the character that this crazy woman is capable of so much more than she had thought. And with the help of two particular new friends, she realises that the life she imagined with Joachim is probably not the one she wants.

Dosch is in every scene of this film and she fills each one. Her nutty, stream of consciousness rambling (and kudos here to Serraille for her phenomenal screenplay) and her reasoning that is so beautifully rational make her a compelling character. Even when she behaves badly to a friend, that crazy logic of hers shows that what she did was not so bad after all. As Paula, Dosch is a force of nature, and she imbues the film with an essential vibrancy. If 2017 is the Cannes year of the woman, then surely there is no better film than this one to prove it. Chapeau, ladies, for giving us one of the films – and certainly one of the performances – of the festival.