Released with the title Maryland in France – a reference to the name of the house in which most of the action takes place, as opposed to the American state – Disorder is the second feature-length film that Alice Winocour has directed, and the fifth that she has either written herself or co-written (including the screenplay for Mustang, which picked up an Oscar nomination a couple of months ago). Both of her own works to date have been screened in competition at Cannes and it’s not difficult, on this evidence, to see why she’s being held in un certain regard: Disorder is a tense and very well-made thriller that has been given a modern sheen by a bass-heavy techno soundtrack – the kind that throbs – and some intriguingly oblique references to corruption and dubious international political wrangling. I always enjoy it when the arthouse crosses over with a more mainstream genre – in this case action – and the results here are pretty good, though I should add that Winocour’s film is fairly light on the Liam Neesoning, with the fighting and shooting restricted to a couple of scenes only. The accent is firmly on the slow build-up of a pervasive, unsettling mood, but the sudden explosions of violence serve the film well.
Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Vincent, a soldier on leave from Afghanistan who is suffering from PTSD; he’s prone to severe, pounding headaches, and he spends the film in a wired, agitated state, which is cleverly referenced by the sound design as much as it’s illustrated by the actor massaging his own neck and temples. When he’s at home in his native France Vincent undertakes well-paid private security work, and the film is structured around his latest job, which involves protecting the wife and son (Diane Kruger, Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant) of a wealthy Lebanese arms dealer. Due to various shady business dealings – which are alluded to without ever being clearly explained – the safety of the family in question is threatened, and despite all the alarms and CCTV systems a multi-millionaire can muster their house isn’t quite secure enough to keep intruders out. Which is where Vincent starts to earn his money.
Events play out over the course of a couple of days and are largely seen from Vincent’s perspective; the audience finds out about the family dynamic and the arms dealer’s business dealings in tandem with the main character. This slow drip of information means that the plot remains murky for much of the film, but it doesn’t really matter, as the baseline issues of protection and dependence are always there to guide the viewer through. As with many modern thrillers surveillance features heavily – manifest via CCTV footage and echoed by Vincent’s eavesdropping and stolen glances – but it’s all introduced necessarily by the setting, while the director plays with some of the genre’s conventions; the hero of the story isn’t an out-and-out good guy, and there are tantalising glimpses of a darker side as he becomes more comfortable in his surroudings and the pressure of protecting the family causes him to lose his temper. The mutual attraction between the two characters played by Schoenaerts and Kruger is also handled fairly coldly by Winocour, and is kept bubbling under the surface throughout, where other writers may have been tempted to make more of it. Very impressive work, with – dare I say it – a hint of Michael Haneke, thanks to a number of long shots and the setting: the kind of grand, airy house he used in Funny Games.
Directed by: Alice Winocour.
Written by: Alice Winocour, Jean-Stéphane Bron.
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant.
Cinematography: Georges Lechaptois.
Editing: Julien Lacheray.
Running Time: 100 minutes.