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If you plan to watch this film, bring an ample bucket of patience along with your popcorn. Within 15 minutes, this flick descends into murky and contrived situations that will leave your head spinning. You are watching two parallel films (one in the present, one in flashbacks 32 years earlier), but you're also watching perhaps two or three OTHER sub-plotted films, with shady and brutal characters weaving in and out, some appearing or reappearing or just disappearing altogether.
The 'plot' for this flick is so contrived that, as a mere mortal, I'm at a loss to explain it. As an act of symbolism (what happens to children snatched from birth), it works, at least on one level.
Guillaume Cantet plays Eric, the son of a father he never knew (he was abandoned at birth). He receives an urn containing the ashes of his father from (what else?) a mysterious source who (what else?) REMAINS mysterious. We presume the urn really contained not ashes, but drugs, coveted by nasty druglords who come from somewhere (Marseilles? Paris? Who knows?) As with so much in this film, these shadowy druglords are enigmatic figures used as 'add-ons' when we already have too many 'add-ons'.
A barely recognizable Thierry Lhermitte plays a man who needs some kind of brain 'graft' if he wishes to survive. Such a 'graft' can only come from his daughter, who may, or may not be, Cecile (Vanessa Paradis), a cheap roadside hooker who manages to be kidnapped by the druglords, hidden in a cellar, and escapes through an odd, and, yes, confusing twist of events.
I kept rewinding this film, trying to really understand it. No such luck. The 'clef' (key) of the title re-emerges in the end, in yet another peculiar twist that isn't really explored. And that pretty well sums up this flick for me: a lot of tantalizing 'twists'.
The terrific Josie Balasko plays Michele, a dogged and philosophical detective in the 1970s who believes in 'parallel universes' -- intimate events affecting people connected in different places and time. The great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski explored this theme on numerous occasions, most successfully perhaps in 'The Double Life of Veronique'. This 'parallel' theme is really what this film is supposed to be about, it seems to me, but it just doesn't work.
Marie Gillain plays Eric's long-suffering wife Audrey. Unfortunately, she doesn't have much to do in this film.
This should have been a superlative thriller, but it couldn't find a cohesive thread to compound the suspense. It has a lot of style with jolt-a-minute editing and often irritating (and disruptive) hand-held camera work. In short: as so often happens in movies such as La Clef, style supersedes substance.
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