Dir/scr: Olivier Coussenacq. France. 2010. 90mins


Though rather muted and old-fashioned in its traditional plotting style, Olivier Coussenacq’s moody thriller-drama is certainly watchable and intriguing, and driven ably at times by a mermerising performance by young actress Anais Demoustier as the sweetly manipulative Celine.

The scenes shot in the couple’s gothic-style mansion are impressive and shot with a moody energy.

It is an absorbing tale of manipulation – both sexual and emotional – with the script astutely pulling back the layers of Celine’s contrivances, though if anything it could have been played darker and more sexually charged.

Distribution outside France is likely to be modest, but it is likely to feature on the festival circuit. Sweet Evil had its premiere in the main competition section of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Fifteen year-old Celine (Demoustier) is sleeping rough in the garden house of a luxury villa, making money on the streets with the aid of boyfriend Romain (Dieuaide), who works at the local pet shop but whose nighttime hobby is killing dogs and stealing their collars.

Celine is eventually discovered by the owner of the house, local Judge Henri van Eyck (Greggory), who despite his wife’s initial reluctance takes the girl in and offers her shelter.

Celine is the picture of coy charm and wins over both van Eyck and his wife (Mikael), though gradually begins to sexually manipulate the Judge, who eventually finds the lure of young flesh too tempting. His wife is impressed by Celine’s appearance of wanting independence and to create a new life for herself.

But things are not quite as they seem. Celine’s mother is in prison – sentenced by the good Judge himself – and Celine is plotting a way to get her released. She preys on the couple’s weaknesses, with her apparent innocence the bait.

The scenes shot in the couple’s gothic-style mansion are impressive and shot with a moody energy, though the workmanlike plotting means that the character development is all quite straightforward. Anais Demoustier  - named as one of European films’ Shooting Stars by European Film Promotion for 2010 – is perfectly cast as the clever and manipulative teen. She has a coy charm that works well as Celine sets about lying and contriving to have her own way.

Writer-director Olivier Coussenacq underplays her sexual games, which helps give the film a rather more traditional feel, but also gets the most out of Pascall Greggory, whose sad lechery is at odds with his genuine sense of compassion. It is when these lines between victim and offender blur that the film is at its best.

The barking-mad, knife-wielding boyfriend character rather interrupts the more subtle sense of game-playing that is the defining aspect of the film, and the climax feels forced, as if the need for a more jarring end won over at the expense of something more enigmatic.

Production company: Local Films

International sales: Umedia, www.umedia.fr

Producer: Nicholas Breviere

Cinematography: Alexis Kavyrchine

Editor: Stephanie Araud

Production designer: Michel Carmona

Music: Sarah Murcia

Website: www.lenfancedumal-lefilm.com

Main cast: Pascal Greggory, Anais Demoustier, Ludmila Mikael, Sylvain Dieuaide