Tagged Mélanie Laurent

La chambre des morts: Better Than a French Demme Knock-Off

La chambre des morts. 2007. Directed & Written by Alfred Lot; based on the novel by Franck Thilliez.
Starring Mélanie Laurent, Laurence Côte, Éric Caravaca, Gilles Lellouche, Jonathan Zaccaï, Céline Sallette, Fanny Cottençon, Nathalie Richard, Jean-François Stévenin, & Stéphane Jobert.
Métropole Film Distribution/Mongrel.
Rated 14A. 118 minutes.
Crime/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER La chambre des morts, translated into English roughly becomes Room of Death, is a solid and under-seen French thriller that folds together crime, some horror, and a ton of mystery into a film which many compare to The Silence of the Lambs. Not sure exactly why that is, or well, I know why that is but don’t agree. I love The Silence of the Lambs, don’t get me wrong. However, the relationship between these two films only comes because of the hunt for a serial killer, supposedly intelligent psychopaths, and of course a strong female detective. These are big elements of the Thomas Harris adaptation.
Yet La chambre des morts isn’t a copy or a cheap knock-off. It doesn’t even particularly do any homage to the Jonathan Demme Hannibal Lecter romp. It remains its own film and provides us with enough macabre, sick thrill that you can easily find charm without relying on comparisons to other cinema. One major reason for why the film works is because it doesn’t stick with all the time honoured tropes of the crime-thriller genre. Neither does it totally rely on the stomping grounds of Clarice Starling in order for it to sell the fact women drive its plot. Writer-director Alfred Lot adapts the novel of the same by Franck Thilliez – a book I’ll soon need to track down a copy of – and he almost dares us to assume what’s about to happen next. Using strong directorial choices alongside the powerful acting talent of the lead cast, Lot crafts La chambre des morts into a work of crime-thriller cinema that’s worth far more than being relegated to the realm of a French Demme homage.
This has a lot to offer. Certainly one of my favourite French thrillers between 2000 and 2010. I do love some of the New French Extremity films which came out just before and around the same time as this one. However, there’s something to be said for a subtle, well paced, morbidly exciting work of mystery.
Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 11.44.15 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-31 at 11.41.08 PM
I’m always a sucker for a good screenplay that’s capable of weaving several genres into one. Especially if it’s done seamlessly. Some of the best examples, in my opinion, are the classic Alfred Hitchcock slasher spawning Psycho and Zack Parker’s more contemporary horror-thriller Proxy. At the start, you begin to imagine this is less of a police procedural mixed with a serial killer dramatic thriller, and more a small, personal crime drama. Instead, the screenplay by Lot keeps you wondering. From one scene to the next, you’re never quite sure where things are headed. The plot and its events even get weird from time to time, in the best sense. Certain movies can fall into the trap of trying too hard if they’re switching between different elements, such as this one how it hops between the procedural format (similar to Demme’s classic) and the outright grim atmosphere of a mysterious horror. This is exactly where Lot gets it right with his directing style and writing. He balances the separate elements in a way that comes together perfectly near the end. There’s almost a Gothic-type feel to this story, as well. Not sure if that comes predominantly from the novel by Thilliez, or if this is something instilled by the director-writer Lot. Either way, the finale of the film does have a slight Demme-esque moment where you feel like Lucie is very much right next to Starling in spirit, but the Gothic tone and setting gives this a unique twist, allowing it to exist in a space with all its own creepiness.
Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 11.11.55 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-31 at 11.42.24 PM
The female element in this story is what drives my interest most. Not often are there serial killer films which tackle a woman’s perspective. Certainly not one which extends to several lead characters. Even The Silence of the Lambs remained focused solely on Clarice Starling, and that was excellent. La chambre des morts is able to encompass several different aspects of womanhood: the main character Mélanie Laurent plays whose responsibilities lie between being a tough single mother to being a tough police officer tackling gruesome murder cases; likewise, one of her superiors is female whereas other movies might opt for a typical older policeman; and well, you’ll figure out the other one.
So for a crime-thriller, this one finds itself in a small group where women get to take on the serial killer, they get to play all the roles usually reserved for men. With somebody like Laurent, the main character Lucie is so well performed. She isn’t some typical cop, neither in writing nor in how Laurent portrays her. Lucie is not a burnt out detective, she’s not particularly cynical or optimistic. She sits somewhere in the middle; a new mother, a woman that takes her job seriously and knows it just as well. We’re always going to be reminded of Jodie Foster as Clarice when it comes to these types of films. Although Laurent injects this character with enough of her own talent to not let this role be defined by another. This is the first movie in which I’d seen Laurent and I’ve gone on to enjoy her hugely in Enemy most of all. She’s an excellent actor.
Both Laurence Côte and Céline Sallette are equally as compelling as Laurent. The story of their characters alone is interesting enough. But more than just that they give us highly emotional performances that are tragic. Between the flashbacks and their relationship within the frame of the film’s plot we discover the deep sadness that exists within these women. Most of all, I love that these characters are women because so often men get these complex nasty characters they play while women, in crime-thrillers such as this, often wind up as the nagging wife to a career oriented cop, or some other stock character of the genre. Here, Côte and Sallette play terrifying people, though they are the complex and rich sort of characters women are not yet afforded enough. This is a great example of how interesting a serial killer thriller can get if only you allow for atypical characters that Hollywood isn’t giving much of, if at all. Between these two and Laurent this film is stacked with talent that adds authenticity and, more importantly, emotional weight to the writing.
Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 11.13.13 PM
This movie is far too slept on by many. If you have an aversion to subtitles, get over it and start watching these get French films you’re missing out on! La chambre des morts is absolutely worth watching. Not only does it have a fresh perspective, the story and its various plots come together in such a fascinating way that it provides an exciting finale to take you through its conclusion. Laurent helps sell a huge part of the film, as do Côte and Sallette. In fact, all the supporting cast do a spectacular job with their roles, too. Nobody misses their mark.
The direction of Lot and his adapted screenplay from Thilliez’s novel makes for such a wonderful experience that I’m honestly at a loss as to why more people don’t know (and love) this movie. All the unique elements work together, which are exciting, disturbing, wild. That leaves the rest of us who’ve found our way to Lot’s movie a little French treat that is likely to remain in your mind long after those credits roll across the screen.

ENEMY is a Beautiful, Dark Mindfuck

Enemy. 2014. Dir. Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini. E1 Films. Rated R. 90 minutes. Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

enemy-poster03I won’t waste any time really describing the plot of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which is in part based on the novel The Double by José Saramago. You can easily get the quick description from any site like IMDB, or somewhere else of that nature. What I want to talk about is my take on what actually happens in the film. So, with that being said, if you’ve not yet seen this you’ll probably want to avoid the remainder of my review.

Early on, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor at some college, gives lectures pertaining to totalitarian regimes. I think this leads into one of the larger themes of the film. While some think the movie is an analogy of how it is to live under a totalitarian regime, maybe unknowingly. However, I think this is ultimately about the totalitarian in all of us. What I mean is that I believe Adam Bell and Anthony Claire – his double – are truly one person. I think this movie speaks to how we are often dictators of ourselves.
In this sense, Adam is both himself, a history professor, and Anthony, or Daniel Saint Claire the background actor in lesser known films.
One of the instances I think that points to this is when Adam meets with his mother (the consistently interesting and lovely Isabella Rossellini) – he tells her about this possible double, which she of course pretty much laughs off. Afterwards, though, she tells him: “I think you should quit that fantasy being a third-rate movie actor“. The statement throws Adam off. It’s worth mentioning that just before this his mother serves blueberries for dessert. Adam tells her he doesn’t like blueberries, but she reassures him “of course” he does, and they’re good for him – this directly relates to when we see Anthony earlier before his meeting with Adam, when he arrives home looking for blueberries and his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) forgot to get the ones he wanted. I believe this is one tell-tale sign Villeneuve is exploring the duality of one person.
enemy06There are most certainly instances in Enemy that cannot truly be reconciled into one neat little package for explanation. On the other hand, I do believe there’s one overall theme that protrudes from the film – the struggle of certain men to overcome their desire and draw towards infidelity. I am almost certain the spider imagery here is also closely paralleled with the idea of women. For instance, the very end – and once again, TURN BACK if you have not see this film to the end!
enemy05At the close of the film, Anthony has died in a car accident along with Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) after a switch between the two identical men goes awry. After this, Adam is seem continuing on, seemingly, happily with a pregnant Helen. He receives an envelope in the mail containing a smaller black envelope; inside, a key. This is harkens back to an awkward encounter Adam has in the elevator with a man, thinking he is Anthony, talking about some place they went together, rambling about new keys, and so on. All of this plays to the beginning where Anthony is seen at the weird sex club with the women and the spider – all that. Adam then says he may have to go out later that night, but receives no response from Helen. When he goes into the room to find her, Adam only finds a massive black spider huddling up, as if scared, in the room instead. He doesn’t really look scared so much, as he almost seems to have expected to see it there sooner or later.
enemy07I believe this is a huge key. Right there, Adam comes face to face once more with the infidelity inside him – the feelings Anthony represented. Adam had no desire to have sex with Helen in the beginning. It was only due to Anthony’s aggressive behaviour Adam ever agreed to switch places for the night; Anthony was the one who wanted to get away from his pregnant wife and be a single man again for a night, even if it meant pretending to be Adam. Once Anthony’s crazy behaviour goes over the top, it leads to him and Mary being killed in the car crash – this is Adam effectively killing off the side of him which strives to cheat on his wife. In reality, Adam and Helen are together, and the parts of the film involving Anthony and Mary are almost like the struggle involving his feelings of infidelity going on in his mind. You can see a real change start to happen particularly once Adam lays down in bed with Helen for the first time – I think this scene unlocks a lot of things.
These ideas also tie into the moments where we see the ominous spider stalking through the Toronto skyscrapers. Furthermore, the woman in the beginning about to crush the spider with her heel is sort of a representation of a woman being the answer to Adam’s search – the woman is literally going to crush the spider, the infidelity, underneath her boot. At the end of the film, Adam sees the giant spider in that room and we can see how he may have thought the thoughts of infidelity were killed off with Anthony – however, they were simply relegated to a room in his mind – because it’s clear the city itself is a sort of lifelike, realized world representative of Adam’s overall mind. Even some of the cover art points to this fact. I think, for me, this is one of the best explanations of the film. It works for my viewing. Maybe not for that of others.

1015996-rodeo-fx-enhances-villeneuve-s-enemyThis is by far one of the best films I’ve seen in the past decade or so. I love a movie which not only has what can be taken as a definitive meaning behind all the imagery, but also likes to play with the imagery in a way that can shock us, or push us to interpret, reinterpret, and so on. Villeneuve does a great job of weaving a fantastic tale here. He certainly leaves a lot to the imagination. I’m not saying my opinion on the meaning of this film is a definitive answer at all – there are many other great views on what Enemy truly means, and I think some of those are excellent, as well as very viable options as to a concrete theory. I happen to think mine, which is shared by plenty of others before me, is just one of the most interesting ways to look at the film. It’s a great one, and on the top of my 2014 releases – this didn’t make it out until last year here, even though it was screened plenty in the latter half of 2013. So please, check it out.
The Blu ray is also fantastic – there are a few special features you can dig into, including interviews with all involved. Wonderful picture and sound. Highly recommend this release. Denis Villeneuve is one of the best Canadian filmmakers ever to grace us with his presence. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.