Dir: Laurent Achard. Fr. 2006. 96mins.

A stark corrective to the tradition of lyrical Frenchfilms about the tender joys of growing up in the country, Laurent Achard's Dementedis a Gothic but soberly-executed melodrama about childhood as hell. Based on anovel by Canadian writer Timothy Findley, Achard'sfilm gives us a child's-eye view of an adult world that seems irreparablydamaged, while maintaining a controlled stylistic distance that keeps us, likeits young protagonist, guessing at the nature of what's really going on.

The film's control andintelligence more than merit Achard's best directoraward in Locarno, and should put him on the map (hislast film was Rotterdam Tiger winner PlusQu'hier, Moins Que Demain in 1998). Goodpress and word-of-mouth should help the exports of a subtle piece that isn'teasy to encapsulate in a brief hard-sell pitch, while festivals will latch ontoit as one of the year's most clear-headed art-house statements. The Englishtitle, however, is more suggestive of B-movie shlockthan thoughtful Euro fare and could be a disadvantage.

The story focuses on 11-year-oldMartin (Cochelin), a gauche, unprepossessing lonerwho lives with his family on a run-down farm. When school breaks up, a grimholiday seems to lie ahead of the boy. At home, no-one seems too happy to seehim around, expect for the house's Moroccan domestic Malika,the nearest Martin has to a mother figure. Martin's grandmother (veteran Cordy) has an icy, unforgiving presence, while his mother (Reymond) lives behind locked doors, the ebb and flow of hermental condition keeping her husband in a state of nervous anxiety.

The boy has an uncertainally in his big brother, a mercurial arty type in a volatile state of psychicand sexual meltdown, who has never recovered from a schoolteacher failing torecognise his apparent genius as a poet. With family stability crumbling, andthe farm on the verge of being sold to wealthy neighbours, things come to aconclusion that Achard executes with coollyunderstated shock effect.

Much of the film's effecthinges on the inscrutable presence of young Cochelin,who at first seems oddly vacant, but whose blank manner turns out to provide anuninflected conduit for the traumas that surround him. Among the familymembers, Dominique Reymond (Will It Snow For Christmas'), whose presence in French films isinvariably a positive sign, has a magnetic presence as the much-feared,too-little loved mother - and a single long close-up of her calm, implacablestare is perhaps the most terrifying sight that recent cinema has had to offer.

Without laying on anydramatic rhetoric or expressionist effects, Achardhas succeeded in making a film that functions brilliantly as a psychologicalhorror story - although, this clan's extremity notwithstanding, the horror atissue is simply the standard one of childhood solitude and the approach toadolescence.

Achard and co-writer Natalie Najemastutely maintain a balance between the viewer's sense of a world out of kilterand a sense of Martin's own partial view of things, while dangling intimationsthat all may not be right with the boy either. Sober, classically framedphotography make this a visually handsome film too, providing just enough ruralprettiness to appeal to admirers of French ruralism -who will quickly realise that Cold Comfort is the name of this farm.

Production companies
Agat Films
Rhône-Alpes Cinema
Versus Productions

International sales
Films Distribution

French distribution
Ad Vitam

Dominique Barneaud

Laurent Achard
Nathalie Najem
from The Last of the Crazy People by TimothyFindley

Philippe Van Leeuw
Georges Diane

Jean-Christophe Hym

Alex Beaupain

Main cast
Julien Coquelin
Pascal Cervo
Dominique Reymond
Annie Cordy