It’s an old adage that there’s no place in Hollywood for women over forty (unless, conveniently, they still happen to look 25). But this logic does not extend, thankfully, to French TV. In the new French TV series Nona et ses Filles (“Nona and Her Daughters”), we are gifted with a brilliant cast of almost entirely women, all of them over 40. The protagonist, Nona, is a 70-year-old third-wave feminist who lives by her own rules, and refuses to cow to anyone else’s opinions. She sleeps around (with women and men), runs a Parisian Planned Parenthood, and has raised three girls, triplets, as a single mom after getting pregnant in her 20s from a one night stand. Nona is played with delightful humor by the iconic French actress Miou-Miou (Going Places, Entre Nous), whose legacy in French cinema spans five decades.
The show was written and directed by Valérie Donzelli (Declaration of War, The Queen of Hearts), who also appears as Nona’s daughter, George. She is joined by her “sisters,” Clotilde Hesme (Lupin) as Gaby, and Virginie Ledoyen (Farewell, My Queen) as Manu.
What with such a great cast, it’s hard to wrap your head around a conceit so jarring: When Nona is confronted by a miracle pregnancy at age 70, she immediately asks for an abortion and tells her boyfriend she never loved him. It is soon revealed that the pregnancy is not simply a medical wonder, but some kind of tool of magical realism. Nona’s only partner fails the paternity test, her baby is due on Christmas, and her stomach glows with an eerie red light that vanishes as soon as someone tries to photograph it. Is Nona carrying the next Jesus Christ? Or, perhaps, an alien invader? It’s hard to tell.
When Nona’s daughters move in to help her through the pregnancy, they are thrust back into their childhood roles (as well as a wonderfully whimsical triple bunk bed). Manu, the type-A housewife, has clearly taken on the role of parent to both herself and her sisters, thanks to Nona’s hands-off (read: absent) parenting style. George, the zany PhD student, quietly records her family’s exploits in order to use Nona’s pregnancy as part of her thesis. And Gaby, the sex therapist, seems bent on stirring the pot (as well as starting a flirtation with Nona’s new live-in midwife, which borders on sexual harassment). In another TV world, the show could have been a charming, heartwarming comedy about a family reunited in the face of a crisis, but the stranger elements of the show often overshadow these more personal interactions.
Nona and her Daughters blends dark themes with slapstick comedy in an iconically French way. It calls to mind other contemporary French surrealist projects like, I Am Not An Easy Man or, The 7 Lives of Lea. Some scenes, like Nona absolutely schooling ninth graders on sex ed, offer great comedic promise. But then they are followed by truly disconcerting ones, like the bizarre musical number sung by Nona and two of her daughters at the end of the show’s pilot.
What happens with Nona is up for you to discover. But in the first few episodes, at least, the French comedy raises more questions than it does eyebrows.
Nona and her Daughters is available to watch through MHz, a new streaming service bringing international programming to an American audience.
Catherine Rickman is a writer, professional francophile, and host of the Expat Horror Stories podcast. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.