Friday, May 19, 2006

Lemming - Movie Review

Lemming 2005

Lemming” is a terrifically entertaining and twisted little thriller that delves into the dank and festering underbelly of humanity. The suburban couple. Our beloved Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as Bénédicte, a seemingly docile young wife, married to an eco-friendly designer / engineer (!) who casually invites his boss and wife over for dinner one night. That would be their first mistake. For while the husband, played quite stirringly by Laurent Lucas is clearly a brilliant young man who has recently created a unique new home security system which patrols your house via a camera attached to a whirly gig, he might not be the most capable man when it comes to dealing with personalities or relationships as we shall discover.

The elder couple is portrayed by the accomplished André Dussollier and the legendary Charlotte Rampling, who delivers her second brilliant performance of the year after her blistering turn in “Vers le sud”. Here, she portrays Alice, a shattered collection of nerves masquerading as a woman whose palpable hatred for her husband makes for one interesting dinner conversation. Accusations of adultery, prostitution and flying glassware end the evening’s festivities and set the tone for the unraveling of all four lives.

We were completely beguiled and ready for a rip roaring domestic drama. And then we remembered that this was a thriller. Into the mix, arrived a wildly obtuse bit of symbolism that either works for the audience or doesn’t. It has to do with the title of the film. Lemmings, as you may or may not know are Scandinavian critters that are infamously and it turns out erroneously known for their en masse suicidal tendencies. Okay. We could go there after viewing the stifling relationships on display. But then, the slightly bizarre occurred. It seems that young Bénédicte and Alain’s kitchen sink has been clogged, and upon further investigation out pops a dead lemming!

Once the little rodent is discovered, their lives kick into a fast track downwards spiral that offers some superb moments for the actors. Charlotte Rampling is absolutely breathtaking as the shattered Alice. While her role is not the lead, it consumes all scenes and players around her. Which would be a terrible thing if the film’s central conceit did not rely so heavily on her strong presence. For you see, gentle readers, Alice is a woman who will stop at nothing in order to make her deceptive husband pay for the years of emotional abuse he has heaped upon her. Well, certainly from her perspective.

Which is a notion this film takes to heart. Perception. The roles we are expected to play as boss / employee, husband / wife, parent / child. All of them become inverted and twisted in this domestic drama with more than a few tinges of the supernatural. Thankfully, it never descends into “Slasher / Killer / Zombie” territory, and the most horrifying elements depend entirely on one’s perspective. Is Bénédicte acting strangely? Or is Alain reading too much into her actions? What exactly happened between Alice and Richard? Between Alice and Alain? Between Alice and Bénédicte?

To say that the plot gets thick with tension and fear is an understatement. Credit the four lead actors for their fantastic turns. Charlotte Gainsbourg has always had such a delicate beauty and grace about her that it was revelatory to watch her dabble in the darker aspects of the human soul. Her character takes on the mantle of Alice’s pain in some very unexpected ways. We loved watching this seemingly benign and doting bourgeois housewife dip into a macabre and dangerous world.

André Dussollier is perfectly cast as the cold and domineering patron. The level of his debauchery flies directly in the face of his cool exterior and calm controlling manner at work.

And finally, but certainly not least, Laurent Lucas as Alain delivers the central performance as the beleaguered husband and employee to perfection. Never quite sure why his world is unraveling or what he can possibly begin to do to stop the bleeding – he maintains a believability that is enviable.

Credit must go to co-scenarist and director Dominik Moll, who has already shown great skill and aplomb at handling such dark material. His previous thriller, “Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien” was received with much fanfare. We must applaud Monsieur Moll for his subtle manipulation and assured visual style. It’s cool and crisp and never falters. If anything, we become more interested in the psychological horror than the potential for physical violence. While the film does not shy away from moments of real suspense and fright – it’s focus is primarily on the shattered lives of the principle quartet of actors.

Monsieur Moll also shows a fine grasp of tidying up any loose threads, while managing not to spell out all the details. We appreciate greatly his sense of calm in the storm that never condescends to the audience. A lesson that many American directors of similar themes should take to heart. “Lemming” is a blissfully intelligent and tense thriller that should be the perfect antidote to your usual summer nitwit fare. Do yourselves a favor, and go explore it’s macabre little world. You’ll be glad we sent you. Bless you all!

Directed by Dominik Moll
Written by Gilles Marchand and Dominik Moll

Laurent Lucas as Alain Getty
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Bénédicte Getty
Charlotte Rampling as Alice Pollock
André Dussollier as Richard Pollock
Jacques Bonnaffé as Nicolas Chevalier
Véronique Affholder as Francine
Michel Cassagne as Le vétérinaire

Cinematography by Jean-Marc Fabre
Film Editing by Mike Fromentin
Original Music by David Sinclair Whitaker
Production Design by Michel Barthélémy
Art Direction by Pierre Duboisberranger
Costume Design by Virginie Montel and Isabelle Pannetier



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