My thoughts on this masterpiece
This French oddity from second-time director Bruno Dumont is wonderful. Apparently there was uproar when it was announced that this would take the 1999 Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival. Four minutes into the film I was ready to switch it off, but once I’d settled into the rhythm of the film I was transfixed. That took about 20 minutes, and once I’d finished the film I re-watched it again up to the point where I had realised I was watching a masterpiece.
A policeman investigates the brutal murder of a young girl in a French town and that‘s pretty much it. It’s even less than that in some respects. This film is impossible to describe. For example the girl is found in the opening minutes, but it’s 50 minutes before any real investigation begins. Instead it focuses on the policeman (Pharaon) and his two friends (lovers Domino and Joseph). They go to the beach, to a restaurant, and stand outside their houses having stunted conversations and generally wasting the day away. Pharaon goes for a bicycle ride and tends to his allotment. Essentially nothing happens. There are maybe four or five actual plot points altogether, and the rest is filled with chat of the “Hi, how are you?” variety, long shots of people walking or driving or opening doors. The entire film follows a kind of rhythmic cycle that becomes hypnotic if you allow it.
Which brings us to the actors. The DVD notes say they’re all non-professionals. Not amateur actors, but real people who are acting for the first time. The actor who plays Joseph does reasonably well, but Domino is excellent (and it’s an extremely brave performance for any actress).
Emmanuel Schotte (as Pharaon) is amazing. It’s simply one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. Imagine Travis Bickle with 99pc of the anger taken out. Then cross him with Forrest Gump (with non of Hanks’ caricature or comedy). Cast a non-actor who looks like a cross between Clive Owen and Alfred Molina and you’re somewhere close. He’s a very unlikely cop. He’s wide-eyed, innocent, and simple. He’s slow and deliberate. Brief comments from other characters tell us his wife and child died two years ago, and he looks like a man still stunned, as if he’d just heard the news. This is never hinted at once; we don’t ever see what he was like before, no one ever tells him “You’ve changed”, but I got the feeling this is a man suffering desperately from the pain of grief - most of this is from reading the actor’s eyes which seem like bottomless wells of sadness.
This low-key little masterpiece requires patience. Without his performance I don’t think there’d be much of a film here. Be prepared for an extremely slow film, but one that’s never boring. It will polarise opinion like few other films I’ve seen so I can’t recommend it to everyone (aside from the fact there are some pretty graphic sex scenes), but I thought it was amazing.
* * * * *
Sign for a James Bond board on IMDb http://www.imdb.com/board/bd0000007/nest/64166918