Dir: Robin Campillo.France 2004. 105 mins.
A thinking man's "horror"film, Les Revenants is an intriguing if dramatically muted Gallic"zombie" movie, in which terror, gore and SFX are replaced by an existentialconsideration of a "what if'" situation: what if the dead rose from theirgraves to cohabit - at first peacefully - with the living' Editor andfirst-time writer-director Robin Campillo tries to answer the question with areticently thoughtful drama about a select handful of bereaved living coping withthe return of their deceased love ones.
Lackingstar casting and conventional shock effects (but not suspense and a hushedapocalyptic climax), the film bears an obvious art house stamp that will ensurea wide festival reach (it screens at Toronto after playing at Venice).
Thefilm's metaphorically rich variation on the "living dead" genre will also makeit easy prey for remake resurrection: one can easily see the script blown upinto a Hollywoodian star-driven psychological horror film with all the genretrappings Campillo does without. The films is released in France on Oct 27.
Ratherthan in the dead of night, Campillo opens his film in the bright light of dayas an army of "living dead" - looking no more fearsome than a stream ofmiddle-class Sunday strollers - pour slowly out of a municipal cemetery andinvade the centre of a provincial French city. A voiceover informs us that thatall over the world, tens of millions of recent dead have mysteriously risenfrom their graves.
Witha sure sense of exposition, Campillo then drops us into a city hall meetingwhere the town council discusses the sheer logistical problems of providingshelter for this migrational flux of refugees from beyond (many are set up inRed Cross tents, which suggests a contemporary political parable).
Fromthe social, the film quickly dovetails into the personal as we follow theuneasy reunion of several citizens with their dearly departed: the mayor andhis wife, a young woman and her lover, and a middle-aged couple and their youngson.
Asthese individuals struggle to come to terms with these macabre homecomings andtheir own failings as living human beings (Campillo suggests how the living arethemselves zombie-like), the community of the dead begin to show disturbingbehavioural patterns, such as meeting secretly at night on the premises of alocal factory. The simmering conspiracy of discontent suddenly explodes in acoordinated series of sabotage attacks. Martial law is declared as the militaryis called out to subdue the revolt and return the dead to their graves.
Workingon obviously limited budget, Campillo - who edited Gilled Marchand's WhoKilled Bambi' and Laurent Cantet's Human Resources and Time Outamong others - shows considerable visual flair, even if he is not always ableto flesh out some of his script's more conceptual notions. In one of the film'smost stunning pictorial ideas, the dead, whose body temperature are somewhatlower than that of the living, are monitored from the balloons flying over thecity with heat-sensitive cameras, through which they show up spectral whitealongside the flesh-coloured tones of the living.
Campillo'scast responds well to the bone-spare manner of the film, though the almostBressonian under-acting perhaps robs the film of its optimal emotional impact.Pailhas is most affecting as the young woman whose experience allows her toopen up to the possibilities of life again. Jeanne Laporie's subtle cameraworkcreates a climate of otherworldly worldliness that shades to more nocturnal coloursas social order quietly disintegrates.
Prod cos: Haut et Court, France 3 Cinema, Gimages Developpement
Int'l sales: Films Distribution
Fr dist: Haut Et Court
Exec prods: Caroline Benjo,Carole Scotta
Scr: Robin Campillo, BrigitteTijo
Cine: Jeanne Lapoirie
Ed: Robin Campillo, StephanieLeger
Prod des: Mathieu Menut
Music: Martin Wheeler
Main cast: Geraldine Pailhas, Jonathan Zaccai, Frederic Pierrot, Victor Garrivier,Catherine Samie, Djemel Barek, Marie Montheron, Saady Delas