Dir: DanisTanovic. Fr-It-Bel-Jap. 2005. 98mins.
Forget everythingyou thought you knew about Danis Tanovic, whose debut feature No Man's Land(2001) won the best foreign language Oscar. L'Enfer, his sophomoreeffort, leaves behind his native Balkan territory and its stalemate politics totackle a far more subtle, complex and less evident theme.
The script he useswas originally intended for film-maker Krzysztof Kieslowski, one part of atrilogy that the late Polish director was preparing with regular scriptwriterKrzysztof Piesewicz at the time of his death.
One episode, Heaven(2002), has already been directed by Tom Tykwer to mixed, possibly unfair,reception (it was hard for many critics not to consider what Kieslowski mighthave directed with similar material)
L'Enfer may suffer a similar backlash - for shame, becauseTanovic's style of film-making is almost diametrically opposed to Kieslowski'sand as such deserves to be judged on its own merits.
Here he deploys histalents in directions that one could not have guessed at going by hisbare-boned, war-scarred and voluble debut: L'Enfer is an introvert of apiece made by an extrovert of a director.
If anything itskaleidoscope of human misery, which combines the intense separate dramas ofthree emotionally wretched adult sisters, concentrates more on things unsaid.It is a work that smoulders most of the time but only catches firesporadically.
A strong continentalEuropean cast that includes Emmanuelle Beart, Carole Bouquet, and JacquesPerrin, should ease its way into markets there, possibly with some spilloverinto broader commercial circuits. Beyond that audiences are likely to be foundin niche arthourse where patrons are bothered less about front page news, moreabout abstract notions such as fate and faith.
The opening providesthe key that will later open the door into the past of the three sisters. Asustained shot follows the feet of a little girl and her mother as they walkenergetically into a building, march along corridors, open a door and see anadult faced by a naked adolescent. The sequence ends as a hand is put over thegirl's eyes.
Fast forward severalyears to the three estranged sisters. Sophie (Beart) is married to aphotographer (Jacques Gamblin) who cheats on her, while Celine (Viard), alonely, timid soul, is befuddled by the strange advances of a young man(Guillaume Canet) who addresses her on the street. The youngest, Anne(Gillain), is a student fiercely in love with her professor (Perrin) who hasbeen driven to acute desperation once he cuts off their torrid affair.
Sophie confronts herhusband with her suspicions; when he denies everything, she pays a visit to oneof his lovers. Celine, locked in her solitude, would like to believe that thehandsome stranger will reveal his romantic intentions if she responds to him.And Anne haunts her lover on the phone, in class, on the street, even at home,fighting to break through his resistance and rekindle the passion between them.
Tanovic's approachclearly indicates that he wants his audience to work and unravel theconnections for themselves as he heads towards classical Kieslowski themes suchas the sins of the parents being visited upon the children, self-inflictedagonies being the worst sort and life becomes senseless once faith is lost.
His cast must havefound it difficult to be reined in for so long, moping around abjectedly andwithout any catharsis, but they come to life once they are allowed to sinktheir teeth in their parts, be it Beart breaking down with Gamblin, CaroleBouquet's explosive scene with Miki Manojlovic (the two are the parents of thethree sisters), or in a completely different register, Viard shyly butmistakenly offering herself to Canet. In each case the screen comes powerfullyto life, shaking with the kind of energy Tanovic is so good at.
Lavish cameraworkfrom Laurent Dailland combines with richly imaginative work by productiondesigner Aline Bonetto to round off Tanovic's worldview.
If he does notmanage to be as gripping as Kieslowski was at his best, there can be no denyingthat he can be as much of a pessimist.
Man's Film Productions