I have one particular friend who is always game to see something foreign, indie, and hopefully a little bit nasty [the one who joined me for La Moustache and Somersault], so, since Mamet’s Edmond, which we were both super-juiced about, was no longer playing, we went to see this instead, and were very glad we did.
This is one of those things that it’s better to know as little as possible about going in. I can give you a little teaser without ruining it for you: This guy, Sébastien, is a 22-year-old Georgian immigrant working as a roofer on this house on the coast of France. The guy who owns the house is a real mess, coming home so drugged-up he collapses on the beach, and seems to be involved in some sort of dirty dealings. Sébastien overhears that the guy is going to go somewhere soon and will come back with a lot of money. We see Sébastien’s home life, with a guy who is probably his brother, and they seem poor but not desperate. The guy who owns the house abruptly kills himself, and Sébastien finds out that he will not be paid for the work he has already done on the roof. Stealing an envelope with a ticket to whatever rendezvous the guy was going to make, Sébastien decides that he’ll take the guys’ place and collect the money. He gets—to put it mildly—more than he bargained for.
If you want to see it, I would stop reading now, then come back after you’re seen it and we can discuss. I wouldn’t read any more about it or even look at the poster, though you should be aware that you are going to be in for something really fucking harrowing. Okay? Bye, have a good time.
SPOILERS > > >
One thing that’s being generally discussed in this movie that I think would have been better not knowing is that what Sébastien is on his way to is this sort of Russian roulette betting circle. But the thing is, there’s not that much more to the movie, so you kind of have to mention that to hook people. Nevertheless, let’s backtrack a little. There are some vaguely threatening men hanging around the house-owner’s, and when Sébastien takes the train ticket they start after him. He is told to wait in the middle of an intersection, and after a second a car pulls up and beckons him in. They drive to this remote house, where there is a bit of hugger-mugger as the “sponsors” of the house-owner realize that Sébastien isn’t him and is new to all this, but go forward with him as their player.
The way this game is played, the contestants stand in a circle and aim at the head of the person in front of them. They are told to fire when a light bulb in the center of the room is put on. I don’t think Sébastien really knows what this whole thing is about until he is standing up there, and while the movie admirably doesn’t belabor it [or anything else], you can see that he is basically shitting his pants. I also enjoyed the whole beginning of the contest, where he’s trying to front like he knows what he’s doing, just because it seemed very true to life of those situations where everyone else knows what they’re doing and you’re the only one who doesn’t, and are just trying to stay cool and float by. Then there are the contestants themselves. They all look a little desperate and / or weird, and the film smartly leaves you to fill in the blanks on what’s going on with them, rather than having everything stop to deliver some exposition or whatnot. Actually, the entire movie is like this. For example, one of the contestants is quite obese, and seems to be ill. We can imagine that he has not much longer to live and is doing this to make money for someone else, but we aren’t told this. One of the prominent other contestants is this guy, and we are told that his brother is his ‘sponsor,’ the one placing bets on him. This raises a number of interesting questions, but again the film just leaves them to you, rather than break for his back story.
< < < SPOILERS END
I decided I’m not going to tell you any more of what happens—I have to protect you from yourself! But the movie throughout is very simple and spare, with intriguing clues about the various characters that make you think and want to know more, rather than having everything spelled out. As a result, when it was first over, I sort of felt like I didn’t have much reaction to it, but the more me and my friend talked about it, the more I appreciated its writing, sparseness, and photography. It’s just very well put together and leaves you with a lot to think about.
The website for this movie says it’s about what happens when very hardened people are confronted with pure innocence. Yeah, yeah, all that, but I think other stuff going on in the movie is equally interesting and compelling. Add to this the fact that the star of the movie is also the brother of the director, which is a little interesting when you consider the thing in the movie about the set of brothers, one of whom is playing roulette, and the other organizing his role in the contest and making money—which has parallels to the director orchestrating the movie, and putting his brother IN the movie. Then there’s the stuff about the ‘gift’ Sébastien sends the guy I am pretty sure is his brother, and another last bit about one of the brothers from the game at the very end of the movie, which I can’t really reveal. It’s kind of fascinating, and I tried to ravel it all out, but I’m afraid it wasn’t long before my brain did in fact explode. If you’ll excuse me….
Yes, if you can stand, or enjoy, a very bleak movie with excruciating tension.