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Today, Camille turns nine. He had sworn that on his 9th birthday he would show his parents the videos he was shooting on the side-the tail of a cat scampering away, a window, and a veiled woman's face - an intriguing picture... Later that day, Camille's mother, Ariane, meets up with her son in the park. The boys appears perturbed. He is leaning against a tree, eyes cast down. He says that now he wants to return to his "real home" and his "real mother." Written by
Clumsy as a thriller, but interesting as a psychological essay, you have to work too hard and there's an alternative
On the face of it, Ruiz has set out to make a psychological thriller. Although it's not as satisfying as a classic piece in that genre, there are compensations. The tensions generated between Huppert and Balibar as women calmly but calculatingly at war over a boy they both claim are compelling; however, in a true European art-house style, Ruiz doesn't give us release of this tension as the women alternately also try to behave compassionately towards each other. The only raised voice is that of Huppert's waking from a nightmare (an uncontested irrational event in the film).
In fact, if we follow the title, the film is as little about its thriller skeleton as Jane Campion's In The Cut. Instead it is an intergender psychological study focusing on men. The boy, Camille (Nils Hugon), decides on a practical joke, playing his mother off against an emotionally vulnerable other woman. Both women seem to pander to him rather than scold and this compounds the problem. In the background is an intemperate psychologist (Charles Berling), swift to confront the women in his life - his sister Huppert, the nanny or his pa - and so acting as a symbolic adult counterbalance to the, calm and (we learn) manipulative Camille. It is particularly interesting that, like the father in Henry James' The Turn of The Screw, Denis Podalydes' law-enforcer Father is absent for the duration of the film. Ruiz fashions an Oedipal moment out of Huppert's reaction to his return at the film's close.
Read either as a thriller or as a psychiatric essay, this film is ultimately rather disappointing. I'm officially rather fed up with Mme Huppert's screen method, which is too buried and so I'll be looking to see her on stage before I come back to her (European - enjoyed Heaven's Gate) films again. The support is good. Ruiz does the cast no favours though. Quite apart from some poor lighting and some wilfully odd shots, its as if his direction has left characterisation quite out of reach - I'm thinking particularly of Edith Scob's Shamanic neighbour to Isabelle, who acts knowing but communicates bafflement. The set pieces do not link up to a forward driving plot - the tension I have already referred to is not only weakly dissipated but wasted in its directional potential.
Want to see a good contemporary French thriller? Go and see L'Appartement instead. 4/10
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