When an 11-year-old girl is brutally raped and murdered in a quiet French village, a police detective who has forgotten how to feel emotions--because of the death of his own family in some kind of accident--investigates the crime, which turns out to ask more questions than it answers.
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In a town near Lille, melancholy police superintendent Pharaon De Winter lives with his mother. An 11-year-old girl has been raped and murdered. Over the next week, De Winter investigates and grieves, his face nearly expressionless. He bikes, he gardens. He accompanies his neighbors, Joseph and Domino, to dinner and to the seaside; he even observes them in vigorous if not rough coitus. For Domino, sex seems her way of connecting. Does she fancy Pharaon? A plowed field, the sea, Pharaon's flowers, the pudenda of Domino and of the ravaged girl - this mix of images of beauty, evil, and possibility assaults Pharaon as he tries to do his job and hold on to his humanity. Written by
This French oddity from second-time director Bruno Dumont is a masterpiece. 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 those first 20 minutes again.
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. 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, 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 the audience gets the feeling this is a man suffering desperately from the pain of grief. Most of this is expressed in Schotte's eyes which are desperately sad.
This low-key little film requires patience. Without Schotte's 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 (and there are some very graphic sex scenes), but I thought it was amazing.
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