The Woman Who Dared

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“Flight of fancy.”

womanwhodaredMade during World War II under the Vichy regime which controlled the South of France, it’s tempting to read the story as a metaphor for France’s struggle to be free. It begins with the Gauthier family having to relocate their family garage business, to make way for an airfield (strictly recreational, mind). This, along with a visit by famed aviatrix Lucienne Ivry (Vandène), rekindles a love of flight Pierre (Vanel) has had since his days as a mechanic in World War I. At first, his wife Thérèse (Renaud) is dubious, but after she experiences the joy of soaring through the air, her passion soon exceeds his. She flies, he mechanics, and they prepare a bid, out of their garage, to set a record for long-distance flying by a woman – even as Ivry prepares a much higher profile and better funded attempt on the same mark.

Oddly, it’s a film which reminded me most of two anime. Firstly, the work of Hayao Miyazaki, which has consistently demonstrated a love of flight – most obviously, Porco Rosso. Yet here, it’s odd that a film so much about aviation, is literally grounded. The only shots of planes in motion are taken from the earth, and Thérèse’s record-breaking flight is entirely off-screen. In this, it feels more like The Wings of Honneamise. This was a movie about an alternate-world race into space – yet it was a great deal more concerned about the human aspects than the actual end result. Similarly, this is as much about the love Thérèse and Pierre have for each other. It does come with a note of caution about how shared obsessions can cause tunnel-vision; they even sell their daughter’s beloved piano to fund their project.

Given the era, it’s remarkably forward-thinking. Lucienne and Thérèse are portrayed as easily the most competent aviators, with the men pottering around in their flying machines by comparison. Yet Thérèse is also the glue that holds the Gauthier family together; when she moves to the big city to take on management of a car dealership, their home life suffers considerably. I’d have liked to have seen a better case made for what the appeal of flying is; you’re left to deduce it second-hand, from the reactions of those who have experienced it. Regardless, the appealing central characters here help ensure the viewer is slowly drawn in to proceedings, through a low-key process of familiarity. There’s something particularly genuine about their relationship, and how they’re prepared to sacrifice so much for each other’s dreams. If you’re not holding your breath as Thérèse’s attempt unfolds into disconcerting silence, and even Pierre’s steadfast confidence begins to waver, you’ve clearly not noticed the ominous and foreboding processions of orphans through the town’s streets…

Dir: Jean Grémillon
Star: Madeleine Renaud, Charles Vanel, Raymonde Vernay, Anne Vandène
a.k.a. Le ciel est à vous (The Sky is Yours)

The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl

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“Great idea, spoiled by limp execution.”

goldenclawsInspired by the first in a series of books by Albert Sainte-Aube, it’s easy to see why this proved a successful concept. Beautiful circus performer Françoise (Gaubert, who managed to marry both a dictator’s son and a triple Olympic gold medalist, in Radhamés Trujillo and Jean-Claude Killy respectively) takes her talents to the criminal field, where her tightrope and trapeze skills help in her secret life as a cat-burglar. However, this is derailed when she falls for a sting by government operative Durieux (Guiomar), and the price of her freedom is her assistance with a task set by him.

Diplomat Saratoga (Pitoëff) is using his status as a cover for drug-running, and in order to break the operation open, Durieux needs Françoise to break into Saratoga’s office and liberate a 20 kg package of drugs from the safe. To this end, she’s given the help of Bruno (Duchaussoy), a gifted lip-reader who’ll be able to figure out when the deal is going down, and the two of them begin a stake-out from a nearby apartment. But our heroine’s sticky fingers don’t stop at the drugs, and when she also liberates a large sum of cash from the safe, and heads for Switzerland, with the cop, the criminal and Bruno, all keen to track her down, each for their own reasons.

Unfortunately, this is one of those films that, despite a brilliant title (not the original one, which translates as much more prosaically, as The Lone Wolf). doesn’t live up to its promise. There is an awful lot of sitting around and chatting, filmed in a flat and uninteresting manner, and none of the supporting cast provide any kind of depth or interest. That’s a shame, as the action is generally well-handled, not least the heist at the movie’s core, which takes place during a thunderous rainstorm, making every move all the more treacherous. I do have to wonder, however, quite where they are hanging the trapeze from which the heroine swings, or why she bothers – the tightrope-walking depicted on multiple occasions previously, would seem a much more sensible and reliable method of getting from High Point A to High Point B!

Regardless, after a wonderful 10 minutes, it’s back to sitting around and chatting, and that’s largely where the movie remains until the end. More than one review has remarked on the film’s possible status as an inspiration for Luc Besson’s Nikita. While I can see that possibility, in its tale of a woman coerced into working for the government, who yearns to escape, this would be a case where the student’s efforts significantly surpassed those of his master.

Dir: Edouard Logereau
Star: Danièle Gaubert, Michel Duchaussoy, Julien Guiomar, Sacha Pitoëff
a.k.a. La Louve Solitaire

Skirt Day

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“Those kids became my enemies.”

skirrtdayGuaranteed to put anyone off education as a career, this stars Gallic sex-kitten from the 80’s, Isabelle Adjani, now all middle-aged and playing French literature teacher Sonia Bergerac. whose career has devolved into hell – hence the line atop this review. She’s teaching a teenage class who, virtually without exception, clearly don’t want to be there, when she finds a gun in one of their bags. A struggle erupts, and when the dust settles, Sonia has the gun, a student is lying on the floor with a bullet-wound, and a siege situation has begun. On the outside, police negotiator Labouret (Podalydès) is having a bad day himself, trying to avoid a blood-bath, while his political masters try to spin news of the unexpected hostage crisis. But inside the theater, Sonia finds that it’s not just political power that grows from the barrel of a gun: she hasn’t ever had pupils pay such impeccable attention to her lessons before…

Made in 2009, this has, if anything become even more topical in the light of the refugee crisis which has become a hot-button issue in Europe of late. For this pulls few punches in its criticism of those who adopt politically-correct policies, simply to avoid trouble with minorities. The title refers to one of Sonia’s unusual demands, a day that women can wear skirts without the risk of harassment by political or religious conservatives, and writer-director Lilienfeld is also scathing in his criticism of immigrants who don’t integrate into their new homeland (a later reveal indicates it’s the latter aspect which is most important), as well as, it appears, yelling at local kids to get off his damn lawn. It is almost certainly the case that aspects of this will make more sense to a local audience; viewers outside France have to work backwards from what’s presented, to read Lilienfeld’s view of French society, rather than the other way around. However, he is also careful not to paint the pupils with a single brush: some are every bit as aggrieved with the status quo of appeasement as Sonia – and, arguably, with greater justification.

It’s not a film without its problems. The exterior scenes don’t have anything like the same impact, and the end feels almost like the director ran out of things to say, and opted for the simplest way to tie up all the loose ends, regardless of how abrupt it might seem. But it’s still genuinely thought-provoking – not something we find often in our genre here – and even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything Lilienfeld has to say, he deserves respect for saying it in a reasonable way. Adjani, who largely came out of retirement to make this, does a great job: the scenario sounds kinda silly, yet largely through her portrayal of a woman at the absolute end of her rope, it becomes plausible enough to work. Hard to imagine anything like this coming out of Hollywood, that’s for sure.

Dir: Jean-Paul Lilienfeld
Star: Isabelle Adjani, Denis Podalydès, Yann Ebonge, Sonia Amori
a.k.a. La Journée de la jupe

The Bride Wore Black

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“I’ve got a little list, of society offenders who might well be underground,”

“No remorse, no fear… The justice of men is powerless. It can’t punish me. I’m already dead.
I died the same day David did. I’ll join him after I’ve had my revenge.”

brideworeblack2Undeniably highly influential, this 1968 French film starts with a woman, Julie Kohler (Moreau) trying to commit suicide. Stopped by her mother, she begins her mission: to track down the five men who were, to some extent accidentally, responsible for gunning down her husband, literally outside the church where they had just got married. She jets around the country, taking care of them, and crossing their names off a list in her notebook. Sound familiar at all? Yes, this is another one of the sources which Quentin Tarantino shamelessly ripped off was inspired by for Kill Bill, though obviously Kohler is nowhere near such a sword-swinging badass as The Bride, opting mostly for less arterial techniques. Tarantino says he never saw it, but for a devoted film fan who worked in a cult video store, that’s about as credible as his claim not to have seen City on Fire before making Reservoir Dogs. It also inspired, as documented elsewhere, the Kate Bush song The Wedding List, in which a widow seeks revenge for those who slew her husband.

Truffaut had just finished a lengthy set of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, and you can see the influence here, not least in the score by frequent Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Hermann, which riffs on the Bridal March to positive effect. Though the director spent so much time on set here arguing with his cinematographer, that Moreau ended up directing the actors for significant chunks. Truffaut expressed disappointment at the time of its release, and the critical response was underwhelming, but it was a commercial success and its reputation has grown over time. You can see why, with Moreau holding the episodic nature of the film together well, gluing the segments together devoted to each victim. She may not be able to overpower them physically, and the film works within that admirably, using her smarts and guile as a weapon, to reel them in and put them in a position where they are vulnerable. Her first victim is an excellent example, as she flirts with the man and eventually gets him to climb over a high balcony to retrieve her scarf. One little push, and she gets to cross a name off her list.

brideworeblack3This intelligence holds throughout the entire movie. At first, it seems a fatal mistake when she leaves behind a bit of evidence at the scene of a crime, and worse still when she then attends the funeral of the victim, where she is arrested by the police. However, this leads to a glorious moment of realization for the viewer, when you figure out that it is all part of her meticulously-crafted plan. The last shot of the movie follows that to its logical conclusion [well, logical if you accept that, in sixties France, men and women could be held in the same prison; hey, it’s France!], in an entirely satisfying way.  Its inevitability is part of its charm, because the viewer and the heroine know what’s about to happen, while everyone else is ignorant. In effect, you become Julie’s accomplice at the end, and it works brilliantly.

It’s an interesting choice to make her targets not evil or even particularly malicious; careless, is probably closer to the truth, and the cost of that carelessness is, arguably, far in excess of what it deserves. This gives the film a moral ambiguity that’s the complete opposite of Kill Bill, where the rest of the DIVAS were set up as utterly deserving of the Bride’s vengeful fury. This almost absurdist balance seems typically French, as does the heroine’s remorseless quest for payback; both aspects are reminiscent of Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources, albeit clearly without those two films’ pastoral setting and tone. The film is based on a 1940 novel by American noir author Cornell Woolrich, though some imprints have it published under Woolrich’s pseudonym, William Irish. The novel opens with a quote by Guy de Maupassant: “For to kill is the great law set by nature in the heart of existence! There is nothing more beautiful and honorable than killing!”, and this is an apt summary of what follows.

It wasn’t Truffaut, but another cornerstone of the French new wave, Jean-Luc Godard, who supposedly said “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl” [though indications are, he was quoting D.W. Griffith]. While Godard certain included the combination often enough in his own work, it’s from Truffaut we get a more fully-fledged exploration of the theme, even if Julie barely touches an actual gun over the course of the film – it’s understandable, given the nature of her husband’s death, that she would adopt other approaches. This manages to be as much a satire of, as a loving homage to, both Hitchcock and the tropes of the “vengeful woman” genre, though plays it dead straight, so can be appreciated and enjoyed purely on its own merits. If certainly not lacking in style, Truffaut – and, perhaps more importantly, Moreau – also manage to deliver the substance, and almost fifty years later, this stands the test of time with rare persistence.

Dir: François Truffaut
Star: Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Bouquet, Charles Denner
[a.k.a. La Mariée était en noir]

Lucy

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“NOW there is a god…”

Besson has been making action heroine movies for almost a quarter-century, going back to Nikita, which remains one of the most iconic and influential genre entries. The Messenger and Angel-A are the most obvious members of his filmography, but even when they’re not strictly in our wheelhouse, they often contain those aspects, e.g. The Fifth Element or Leon. The prospect of him returning to the field was an exciting one, but the end result doesn’t quite live up to what I’d hoped. And that’s discounting the fact, trotted out by a lot of lazy critics, that the entire film is based on a shaky premise – the whole “we only use ten percent of our brains” things is pure myth. I have no real issues with that. There’s no evidence for the galaxy having guardians either, and the same premise was an integral part of Defending Your Life, currently 96% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.

lucy4No, my main issue is a failure to unleash the potential of the idea (rather than the human brain). The initial set-up is interesting and slick. Lucy (Johansson) is trapped into acting as a drug mule for a Korean mob-boss (Choi), but the package inserted into her stomach is breached, causing the contents to leak into her bloodstream, and triggering the gradual activation of the remaining 90% of her brain. Initially, she becomes self-aware, but her skills then increase exponentially, first to manipulating her environment, then the very fabric of time and space itself, before she vanishes entirely from our world. Freeman plays Professor Exposition Samuel Norman, whom Lucy contacts to… Well, I’m not really sure exactly why. Something about him being the guardian of the knowledge she acquires as her mind expands. Waked plays a French cop, who helps her get the entire global supply of the drug, needed for her to reach 100%. We get a literal score of her progression in this department, tabulated on screen between scenes.

I think this would have benefited from a more measured approach, rather than a headlong rush toward Lucy’s divinity: the journey is more fun than the destination. There’s a certain point here, perhaps half-way through, where she becomes entirely invincible, and that’s where this turns into an intellectual exercise, because no-one – least of all a bunch of Korean gangsters – is a credible threat any more. I would have had Lucy get a little taste of the drug, then spend most of the film exploring what life is like as a super-enhanced bad-ass, using her talents to acquire more of the drug. Perhaps have the film end as she cranks the proceeds into her veins, and only then quickly go all 2001 on the audience, as Besson does at much greater length here. That’s closer to what I was expecting, and may be the result of  publicity that seemed to set this up as an action flick with existentialist aspirations, when it’s really an existentialist flick with action aspirations.

lucy3While I’d have enjoyed the former more, there are no shortage of aspects to admire. Besson’s films are generally a lot of fun, and this delivers the level of visual style and polish we’ve come to expect from all his works, both directed and produced – the car-chase is particularly Bessonesque. Johansson is also good in the role, though Freeman seems faintly embarrassed to be there, as if he should instead be off narrating another Science Channel documentary. Credit is due too, for making an action movie which is not only R-rated, but with a heroine, a combination which has been a difficult sell in the past e.g. Haywire. Lucy has arguably become the first such to pass $100 million at the US box-office, depending on how you view T2, and I’m more than happy to see it succeed, even if any sequel resulting from its profitability is going to be answering some difficult questions!

Watching this, I was left with a frequent urge to yell the line at the top of the review, which is taken from a famous SF short-short story by Frederic Brown, about the perils of unfettered technology and artificially constructed deities. Lucy is the human equivalent, though according to Besson, “A simplified summary, which will conjure up the images in as few words as possible,” was that “The beginning is Leon: The Professional. The middle is Inception. The end is 2001: A Space Odyssey.” This overview probably explains why my entertainment level diminished as things went on, because I love Leon and regard 2001 as one of the most over-rated pieces of tripe in cinema history, containing spectacular visuals, but little or no heart. That’s what Lucy is sadly missing: you can see Johansson deliberately dialing back her humanity, the higher her percentage of brain function becomes. It makes sense, but you’re left with little reason to empathize with her; it’s like nothing so much as watching Superman being super, and there is no kryptonite in sight here to bring her back to the level of the audience.

Re-reading the above, it seems perhaps unnecessarily harsh. Make no mistake, this was a fun ride, and I was never bored. It may be a case of managing expectations here: if you’re happy with a film which builds to having the heroine sit on a chair for 20 minutes, before going all Neo on us for a finale, then this will be fine. But given Besson’s pedigree, combined with a trailer which made this seem more like the Black Widow film we’ve been promised than anything, I was anticipating something rather different. It’s not often I criticize a film for being too much brains and not enough brawn, yet this might be one such case.

Dir: Luc Besson
Star: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik

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L’Exécutrice

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“Bon flic, mauvais flic”

They say, write about what you know – and writer-director Caputo certainly appears to have done that here. What better topic for the director of Pénétrations humides to choose for a police thriller, than the sleazy world of porn? Especially, when you can get adult legend Lahaie as your lead. She plays police detective Martine who finally manages to ensnare noted smut-monger Madame Wenders (Erlanger), only to find her gang retaliating by kidnapping Martine’s little sister and demanding the release of their boss. Making things even murkier, her boss (Modo) has a stalkery crush on Wenders, and her colleague, Valmont (Oudrey), carries a picture of the perp who shot his partner around with him. He is inclined to shoot first and ask questions later, and teases her about her reluctance to carry a gun. As the pictures here suggest, that reluctance doesn’t survive until the end of the film.

executrice2It’s all pretty implausible, and doesn’t exactly paint a kind picture of the French police, who are portrayed, almost without exception, as mad, incompetent or both – if it wasn’t for Martine’s informant, she would literally be clueless. However, Lahaie is always worth watching, showing much the same solid screen presence which I’ve previously enjoyed in Fascination. This isn’t as impressive, trading in the ethereal, other-wordly quality for a grubby and gritty urban approach that is never particularly convincing in its depiction. Still, there are some good moments, in particular an extended sequence where Wenders is released from jail, knowing full well the police will be tailing her. The cat-and-mouse game between them, leads to an explosive climax that was genuinely surprising, but the film doesn’t seem to know quite where to go from there.

Against that, there are too many scenes which make little or no sense, such as the one where Martine is attacked in a car-park, only to be rescued by a guy carrying a shotgun in his coat. Or her fondness for sitting in a luminescent hot-tub. While I’m not inclined to complain too much about either, there are times when you wonder if this is the policier version of Caligula, and there’s a three-hour version with hardcore inserts, lurking out there somewhere. I don’t think there is, but it has that kind of disjointed feel to it. Not the disaster I was expecting from some reviews, yet outside of Lahaie, there is little here to commend it to the view.

Dir: Michel Caputo
Star: Brigitte Lahaie, Dominique Erlanger, Pierre Oudrey, Michel Modo

Killing Car

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“Because ‘Killing Asian model of few words’ wouldn’t fit on the DVD sleeve.”

This is a surreal revenge thriller, which begins at a scrapyard where the bickering of a couple is interrupted by an Oriental woman (Tsang), who shoots them dead and takes a car. A series of similar encounters follows, which take a similar form: we are introduced to one or more characters; then the woman shows up, and kills them, leaving a toy car behind at the scene as a marker. This includes a photographer and her assistant; an antiques dealer and his girlfriend; the owner of a dance club, etc. Meanwhile, two cops are following the trail of corpses and Hot Wheels, and it gradually becomes clear that the woman’s actions are tied to a car accident the previous year, with which all her victims had a connection of some kind.

It’s a very chilly piece, with a central character about whom we know almost nothing for the great majority of the film, making it difficult to empathize with her murderous rampage. Meanwhile, it doesn’t take long before we realize that just about everyone else to whom we’re introduced, is going to get shot, so there’s no point in getting attached to, or even caring about them. The role is one that was written for Tsang, who never appeared in anything else, as far as I can tell: that probably says more than anything else. She’s not bad, and has a certain cold charisma that’s appropriate, but there just isn’t enough on which to hang any criticism of her performance. Certainly, despite a willingness to shed her clothes, she’s nowhere near as good as Brigitte Lahaie was in the other Rollin flick we’ve reviewed here, Fascination – interestingly, that appears to be explicitly referenced in one scene here, with a scythe being wielded in a very similar way.

It does remind me somewhat of Ms. 45 too, with a lead character who lets her violent deeds speak louder than her words, though the motive there was a good deal clearer, and placed up front. The highlight is probably an early gun-battle in an almost deserted fairground, which has an eerie, suspenseful quality that’s quite effective, and it’s interesting to see a Rollin movie which does not include female vampires, a staple of his work. However, on balance, I think a few more fangs, perhaps accompanied by a less willfully-misleading title, might not have been a bad thing.

Dir: Jean Rollin
Star: Tiki Tsang, Frederique Haymann, Jean-Jacques Lefeuvre, Karine Swenson

Requiem pour une Tueuse

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“Emotionally chilly, and not as clever as it thinks, but well-acted and shot.”

The French have a decent pedigree of action heroines, going back to Joan of Arc. Cinematically, the likes of Bloody Mallory, Adele Blanc-Sec, and one of the most influential of them all, Nikita, have kept the tricouleur flying. This is closest to the last-named, with Lucrece (Laurent) fed up of the assassin game, but talked into that old standby of the genre, one final mission, by her agent (Karyo, who of course was also in Nikita). This involves posing as a classical singer and taking part in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. For the target is the bass singer (Stills), whose Scottish distillery occupies land an oil company wants for their pipeline. Lucrece is pretty disenchanted with the whole thing, and this may explain why her early attempts mis-fire. Fortunately, the special agent (Cornillac) sent to track her down, is equally as unenthusiastic. But is Lucrece the only killer in play?

The picture is pretty misleading, since Lucrece never touches a gun the entire movie – she’s a poisons specialist. It’s pretty chilly, emotionally, but both Laurent and Cornillac do bring some humanity to their roles, and are both very watchable [there’s one scene between them that is particularly good]. It seems to be aiming for a Hitchcockian twistiness rather than an action-packed thrill-ride; it doesn’t quite pull this off, and you’re left to appreciate the Swiss scenery and the classical music more than the plot. It’s too heavy on the cliches of the genre, and feels more like a lazy effort to tidy up loose ends on a long-running TV series, than a solid standalone work – Lucrece’s relationship with her daughter seems particularly thrown in. A character like Lucrece would certainly have plenty of interesting stories to tell; this doesn’t seem to be one of the more memorable.

Dir: Jèrôme Le Gris
Star: Mèlanie Laurent, Clovis Cornillac, Tchéky Karyo, Christopher Stills

Fascination

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“An iconic low-budget combination of sex and violence.”

Mark (Lemaire), is a thief on the run from his collaborators after absconding with the loot. He takes refuge in a remote country manor, all but surrounded by water, which he believes to be deserted. Turns out he was almost right. The sole inhabitants are a pair of chambermaids, Eva (Lahaie) and Elizabeth (Mai), but despite his gun, they don’t seem quite as terrified of the intruder as one feels they should be, and tell him they are expecting some other female visitors later that evening. Elizabeth does take a shine to Mark, and tells him he should leave, but Eva uses her wiles to keep Mark there. The rest of his gang show up, and lay siege to the house, but Eva takes the loot out to them and single-handedly dispatches them, before returning to the manor. As night descends, the visitors finally arrive, and the noose tightens around Mark’s neck, as the truth about the get-together is revealed…

Watching porn stars try to act is often a painful experience, but renowned 70’s XXX starlet Lahaie is perfectly cast here. She plays a feral creature, driven entirely by instinct, and with no qualms about using sex or violence to achieve her aim, of keeping Mark in the house for the night. The sight of her stalking across the bridge which forms the castle’s sole entrance, wielding a blood-stained scythe almost the same size as the actress, is one that will stick with you. The film does betray its cheapness with some fairly crappy effects [you’re going to have someone hacked apart with a scythe, you should do better than some red gunk on the throat], but more than makes up for it with a parade of strong, confident and sensual female characters. Mark is by now means an idiot or a weakling, but from the moment he arrives in the house, it’s clear he’s completely beyond his depth, out-maneouvered at every turn by the women.

Indeed, right from the opening scene, where a group of elegant ladies sip blood in a slaughterhouse, there’s something off-center about proceedings, and Rollin maintains that sense throughout. While Rollin made several entries in the vampire genre, this is easily his most interesting take on the genre’s mythology – one which doesn’t actually mention the V-word at any point in the film. Lahaie and Mai deserve much of the credit for that.

Dir: Jean Rollin
Stars: Jean-Marie Lemaire, Brigitte Lahaie, Franka Mai, Fanny Magier

À l’interieur (Inside)

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“Some women will stop at nothing to have a baby. Whether it’s theirs or not.”

The ‘final girl’ is a well-worn concept in horror: the last survivor, typically the “good” girl, finally fights back against the assailant in the movie’s climax. It is isn’t normally enough to merit inclusion here, since it’s usually a relatively minor aspect of the film. Here, however, not only is it just about the entire film, the main theme – motherhood and the instincts it arouses – is entirely feminine. Aliens, and Ripley’s surrogate parenting of Newt, would be another example. And it’s also a rarity in the horror genre for both protagonist and antagonist to be female, but the threat here certainly deserves to be up there with Freddy, Michael, Jason and their cousins.

The action here does take place on a much smaller-scale, with the vast majority occurring in a semi-remote house. Sarah (Paradis – her older sister is Johnny Depp’s other half) is left alone on Christmas Eve, her husband having been killed a few months previously in a car accident. She’s about to give birth, but is more depressed by her current situation than delighted. There’s a knock on the door from a mysterious woman (Dalle); Sarah, suspicious, does not let her in, but it seems the woman knows Sarah and her history. The police are called but find no trace and leave. Later that night, the woman returns, and it’s soon clear she will go to – bold, underline please – any lengths to take Sarah’s baby.

Let me be perfectly clear: this is hardcore horror of the most unrelenting sort, completely unsuitable for those of a nervous disposition, and particularly pregnant women. In the 1980’s, Dalle was a sexpot, for her role in Betty Blue, but you can flush all memory of that down the toilet: here, she has a feral, near-demonic intensity, and god help anyone who is unfortunate enough to get in her way. Particularly the men, who are disposed of with complete dispassion and brutality; as the film goes on, her relationship with Sarah becomes complex, and more a case of, “I’m taking your baby, and we can do this the hard way or… Well, really, that’s all there is. Sorry.” Friends, family, even an entire patrol of cops – no-one can help Sarah. She’s completely on her own, and her fate is entirely in her own hands.

Somewhat inspired by the 2006 case of Tiffany Hall, who removed a foetus from her friend’s womb with scissors, the film escalates from a quiet opening, through tension, before exploding in a literal tidal-wave of gore, as the protagonist and antagonist battle each other. My sole complaint is a couple of incidents in the final act that seem to stretch belief, e.g. a character conveniently rising from the dead for another assault, though it’s a common complaint in this area. Otherwise, even though we are jaded fans of both genres covered here, this one will stick with us for a long time, and cements France’s place at the forefront of horror.

Dir: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo
Star: Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle