A long time in the making, this tautly plotted and extremely economical film gradually peels back the layers of a recently dead parent's past. Superbly intense acting from Paul Ashton, the troubled son (Colin Morgan) on the one hand, and Madeleine Brown, a mysterious older woman (the fabulous Fanny Ardant) who is living a Miss Havisham-like existence in a crumbling 18th century mansion in rural France, find themselves caught in a duplicitous game of cat and mouse. He wants to know 'the truth'; she wants to protect her own knowledge of what 'really happened'. Nothing is what it at first seems, of course, or not as we expect. It may or may not be a sort of ghost story. How much are we entitled to know about someone else's past? How far should we go in pursuit of such knowledge? How much are we allowed to keep secret about our own---perhaps to shield the person who thinks they deserve this information, or perhaps to protect ourselves?
There are a number of minor but important characters, none of whom is irrelevant to the action of the film. That fine director and actor, Abdelkrim Bahloul, has a key role as Ahmed, the handyman and gardener who grows his own vegetables on part of Madeleine Brown's overgrown estate. Sylvie, the waitress temping in the village's only bar (Audrey Bastien), who feels attracted to Paul, but is also frustrated by his secretiveness and obsessiveness, is sensitively portrayed.
Complex themes (colonialism, military atrocities, trauma, bereavement, guilt, the complexities of family relationships) are handled with great subtlety. The camerawork is never less than precise and often very beautiful: the writing and direction are both deft and confident.
Even if the multiplexes won't go for this (no huge explosions, breathless car-chases or blockbuster CGI, though there's plenty of genuine suspense), it deserves the widest possible showing in art-house cinemas.
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