I found this to be one of the most disturbing films I can remember. It is a stylish film noir with a cast of characters so repellent and a story line so convoluted and impenetrable that one spends the whole time trying to figure out what exactly is going on and why all of these characters are in the same film. It is probably that which makes it impossible to leave the theatre. The story unfolds like a jigsaw puzzle with shocking scenes shown out of sequence and therefore without context, rather like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The accumulation of vile behavior is rendered with a minimum of dialogue and stunning moody cinematography by Agnes Godard and a haunting electronic score by a longtime Denis collaborator, Tendersticks.
It stars, the ruggedly handsome Vincent Lindon as Marco, who has returned from self- imposed exile from his former life and family to be a ship’s captain in the merchant marine. He had grown completely disillusioned by the behavior of all members of his family after the death of his father, renounced his inheritance and left in disgust, believing them to be tainted. The only reason for his return is the suicide of his sister’s husband and her call for help to save the family business. But he is no match for this crowd of amoral desperate characters as he is confronted by the insidious tangle of money, power and sex which has engulfed all of those who he once cared for.
There is the venal, rich and powerful mogul, Eduard Laporte (played by the sublimely sinister Michel Subor) to whom Marco’s family is deeply in debt. The story is based on an actual French sex ring involving under age girls and older wealthy men which was exposed recently.
Marco moves into a flat in the same building as the much younger mistress of Laporte, Raphaelle (the beautiful Chiara Mastroianni) who lives there with their young son. His efforts to find out Laporte’s vulnerability seem to consist of having intense furtive sex with Raphaelle. Her dependence on Laporte for maintaining a lifestyle for herself and her son has forced her into a sort of numbness so as to avoid the truth of the vileness of the man. She has no moral compass.
Not the least disturbing of these characters is a smarmy couple who seem to be running a truly horrendous sex ring in a barn on an isolated farm just outside of town. They are a craven pair of malevolent drug-addicted debauchees.
Justine,(Lola Creton) Marco’s niece who is hospitalized as a result of a breakdown due to to drug, alcohol and sexual abuse, and appears to be nearly comatose has been under the spell of these two. And this part gets really ugly.
By the end of the film you only know more facts about each of the characters and that they are all complicit in their own victimization and thoroughly without redeeming qualities. I really did not give a damn because they were never developed as anything more than ciphers. For me it was very seductive and confounding and finally disappointing.
Review by Belle McIntyre