Dir: Dominik Moll. Fr. 2005.129mins
Five years ago, Cannes helped to put Dominik Moll on theinternational map with the rapturous response for Harry, Un Ami Qui VousVeut Du Bien. The response to his eagerly awaited follow up is likely to bemore equivocal. A psychological thriller with a peppering of Bunuellian blackcomedy, Lemming contains similar ingredients to Harry but in theservice of a very different recipe.
Enigmatic and deliberatelypaced, it largely sustains a sense of intrigue without becoming especiallyengaging and has less of the sly wit and exuberance that made Harry sucha delight and earned Moll comparisons with Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski.
The high anticipation for anew work by Moll and the stellar cast should secure a strong opening in Franceinternationally, the welcome might be more muted as audiences are left toscratch their heads and ponder what the film is all about rather than rushingout to recommend it.
Fascinated by the way inwhich orderly lives can so easily crumble into chaos, Moll and screenwriterGilles Marchand make brilliant engineer Alain Getty (Lucas) the centralcharacter that they send on an emotional rollercoaster ride. His job is to makesophisticated use of webcam technology for household management. He issuccessful, respected and happily married to Benedicte (Gainsbourg). There isnothing that disturbs the calm surface of their existence.
Then, they invite Alain'sboss Richard (Dussolier) and his wife Alice (Rampling) to dinner. The eveningthreatens to turn into a re-run of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf andRampling's icy intelligence is deftly deployed as the sullen, resentful wifewho has little time for social proprieties or bourgeois pretence. The eveningcomes to an abrupt end after she throws a glass of red wine over her husband.Alain and Benedicte politely endure the spectacle but it becomes a tiny pebblecast into the river of their existence and the consequences are profound.
Sustained by a series ofsometimes mystifying plot twists, Lemming unfolds with the kind ofpoker-faced confidence that makes the viewer want to know more and hope for thebest. It's only after the first hour and the death of a significant characterthat the suspicion starts to grow that there is less here than meets the eye.
Moving into Twilight Zoneterritory, it becomes increasingly inscrutable. The title is taken from thefurry animal that the Getty's find blocking their waste pipe. How a nativecreature of Scandinavian got there is eventually explained. Other developmentsremain open to interpretation. Is there an element of a ghost story here' Is itjust the tricks that the mind can play when a person journeys far beyond theircomfort zone'
David Sinclair Whitakerworks hard to maintain an air of Hitchcockian suspense with his driving,atmospheric music score. Moll pares the film down to its psychologicalessentials, setting the story largely in the antiseptic environments ofanonymous bedrooms, kitchens, hotel rooms and laboratories where the blandnessserves to encourage the belief that something more sinister is going on in allthese unremarkable places.
The approach paysdiminishing returns and the monotonous pacing leaves too much room to ponderwhether characters would really be so indulgent of other people's eccentricitiesor so slow to react to the nightmare that enfolds them. There is such apassivity to both Benedicte and Alain that you can't help but sympathise withAlice when she asks: "Don't you ever get angry'".
The repressed, seeminglyemotionless nature of the characters leaves the actors little room formanoeuvre. Dussolier brings a seasoned professionalism to the imperturbableGetty and Lucas remains a sympathetic everyman character at the mercy of eventsbeyond his control and eventually driven to desperate acts.
It is the women who emergewith the greatest credit. Gainsbourg switches effortlessly from a lovingvivacious wife to a seemingly merciless schemer and Rampling continues to shineas she enjoys some of the best years of her film career.
Just like Francois Ozon,Moll seems to appreciate the untapped reserves of pain and regret that themature Rampling can project and she responds with a performance that isbrittle, prickly, seductive and mysterious. She alone seems to have the measureof a film that is intellectually absorbing but emotionally cold andfrustrating.
Moll clearly still has someway to go before living up to the claims that he is the new master of suspense.
Prod co: Diaphana Films, France 3 Cinema
Int'l sales: Celluloid Dreams
Fr dist: Diaphana Films
Prod: Michel Saint-Jean
Scr: Dominik Moll, GillesMarchand
Cine: Jean-Marc Fabre
Prod des: Michel Barthlemey
Ed: Mike Fromentin
Music: David Sinclair Whitaker
Main cast: Laurent Lucas,Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, Andre Dussolier