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Though only in his late-20s, Brady Corbet has already worked (albeit briefly, on occasion) with a string of top European directors as an actor; the list includes Michael Haneke, Olivier Assayas, Lars von Trier, Mia Hansen-Løve, Bertrand Bonello and Ruben Östlund. There are similarities in terms of the directing styles of some of those named above, and certainly with regard to three or four of them in particular it’s fair to say there’s a kind of removed, icy feel to their best-known films. Corbet’s debut as a director, The Childhood Of A Leader, is a cold, dark and distant film, with cameras that constantly back away apologetically from the action, or that seem to linger without emotion or fascination on the characters at the end of some scenes (in order to emphasise the importance of what is happening, however unpalatable it may be). The film’s superb, atmospheric soundtrack, by Scott Walker, has jarring strings and occasional, strange electronic outbursts, which means that it too seems to fit with the dissonance between the characters on screen, of which few (if any) are sympathetic. It’s a film with a distinct look and feel that one would have every right not to expect from such a young director.

As the title suggests, we’re dealing here with the life of a boy (played by newcomer Tom Sweet) who will become a leader in the future, and there’s an ominous, bleak mood from the outset; given that the film is set in Europe just prior to the signing of The Treaty Of Versailles in 1919 – the resentment of which within Germany became an important factor facilitating the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party – it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what kind of leader the boy will become. He’s called Prescott, and he’s the son of an authoritarian American diplomat (Liam Cunningham) and an austere French woman (Bérénice Bejo), who between them create a particularly stiff, puritanical home environment. The father’s role in brokering the Treaty is important, while he’s also having an affair with Prescott’s language teacher (Stacy Martin). The mother, meanwhile, shows some affection to her son, yet she too has a colder side, as witnessed when she summarily dismisses house staff who have years of experience in their jobs.

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Lines often lead the eye to Prescott (Tom Sweet, right), who is a key presence in each of his scenes despite his diminutive stature

Corbet’s film – based on a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre – is split into segments (‘The First Tantrum’, ‘The Second Tantrum’, etc.), which detail outbursts by Prescott that are presumably supposed to be taken as grave indicators of what will follow in adult life, though one could just as easily argue that the child’s stubborn rejection of the hypocrisy and over-the-top punishments meted out by the Catholic Church are merely indications of someone being wise beyond their years, and that his parents are deserving of the scorn and embarrassment they receive. (I read a witty summation on Letterboxd that described the film as ‘a portrait of a spoiled, rebellious child of privilege who wants to get everything he sets his heart to and will one day be hailed as righteous by the general population’ before later pointing out that the same description could be applied to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)

The concept here is simple, and it’s presented to the audience in a straightforward, compartmentalised fashion that allows very little room for nuanced interpretation: Prescott is such a ‘perfect’ psychological case study it’s perhaps unsurprising that he’s been dreamed up by writers (Corbet’s screenplay was co-written with filmmaker Mona Fastvold) to fit squarely with widely-held views on behavioural patterns. For me, then, The Childhood Of A Leader is more interesting for its formal qualities than it is as a study in child psychology. The tone is homogenous with films like Haneke’s The White Ribbon, or even 1970’s chillers like Richard Donner’s The Omen, with which Corbet’s film shares a sense of looming, impending dread. In fact this feels like a horror film at times, and so chaos and the unknown gradually take over from normality, as they do in horrors; the director and his cinematographer Lol Crawley manage to create a sense of a world going awry with disconcerting, circular camera movement throughout, which eventually leads to a topsy-turvy view on events in one scene, as the father chases the son so he can catch him, and punish him. The nausea-inducing, lurching camerawork of the epilogue is the grand payoff, and it reinforces the notion that this is a remarkably-assured debut feature.

We see plenty of evidence of Corbet’s care (and Crawley’s, perhaps) with regard to the blocking, staging and framing, too. Despite his stature Sweet is often placed at the centre of the frame, or if he isn’t in the middle his presence is amplified by the positions of other actors around him, or the angle of the camera. We see certain things – such as the signing of the Treaty, or the discovery of the father’s affair – from his perspective, and it’s also interesting to note how close or far away the camera is (or indeed the kind of lenses that are employed) during his rebellious acts or his tantrums; I’d need to watch the film again to confirm this, but my impression was that a greater number of close-ups were used as the film progresses, after some initial distance from the action. Does this make us empathise with the brat the longer the film goes on, when we should be tiring of his petulance? Perish the thought, given what he becomes.

Much of this is a long-winded way of me saying that Corbet has made a film that has clearly been constructed very carefully, and with much thought paid to the way in which everything fits together to make a coherent, cohesive whole. To reinforce the point or to support a claim that he could in future be a director of real prowess, I could mention other elements that help to cover up a rather middling plot: once again it’s worth reiterating the importance of Walker’s score, which oddly reminded me of Mica Levi’s Under The Skin soundtrack at times; the very good performances by Cunningham and Sweet in particular; the look of the film, from the enveloping darkness and the natural lighting to the attention to costume design and period detail, which (in tandem with the wintry setting) occasionally makes you feel like you’re watching a movie in black and white, such is the dearth of any striking colour; it’s also so damn heavy-feeling from start to finish, which will undoubtedly put some people off, though it’s also indicative of the director’s consistency with regard to tone. Corbet has clearly been paying attention to a variety of directors and other crew members on a variety of sets, though I wouldn’t want to suggest that this film is a mere imitation of a certain festival-and-critic-pleasing European arthouse style; there’s a strong voice here, and clear ambition, so I’m intrigued to see what he does in the future while admiring this assured debut.

Directed by: Brady Corbet.
Written by: Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold. Based on The Childhood Of A Leader by Jean-Paul Sartre.
Starring: Tom Sweet, Bérénice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, Stacy Martin, Robert Pattinson.
Cinematography: Lol Crawley.
Editing: Dávid Jancsó.
Music:
Scott Walker.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
115 minutes.
Year:
2016.

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In this action thriller spoof Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele – hitherto best known for their Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele – play a couple of mild-mannered ‘ordinary’ guys who become embroiled in gang-related crime. This happens because a drug dealer named Cheddar (Method Man) steals the cute kitten (the titular Keanu) that turned up at the door of recently-dumped stoner Rell (Peele) and … whatever; the point is two vaguely-nerdy friends aren’t gangsters but they must walk the walk and talk the talk in order to infiltrate Cheddar’s crew and get the cat back.

Keanu is smarter than the average comedy – though otherwise it shares the same limited technical ambition that has recently blighted the genre – and I’m led to believe it’s much funnier than many other recent movies with similar fish-out-of-water concepts, such as the Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart vehicle Get Hard (which I haven’t seen and probably never will see). Writers Peele and Alex Rubens play around with racial stereotyping and identity politics in an arch and witty fashion, they incorporate warm homages to a variety of different well-known movies and there are some good jokes relating to Key’s character’s love of George Michael, though the whole thing starts to run out of steam 30 or 40 minutes from the end. Keanu‘s first hour is entertaining, though, helped along by the main duo’s chemistry and some game supporting performances (including cameos by Keanu Reeves and Anna Faris, both playing versions of themselves).

Directed by: Peter Atencio.
Written by: Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens.
Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Tiffany Haddish, Will Forte, Luis Guzmán.
Cinematography: Jas Shelton.
Editing: Nicholas Monsour.
Music:
Steve Jablonsky, Nathan Whitehad.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
100.
Year:
2016.

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[Note: this is the eighth film in my 2016 Blind Spot series. For a list of the other well-known or well-respected films I’ve already watched or I’m going to be watching for the first time this year, see this post.]

John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever is well known for being one of John Travolta’s two musical star-making turns, although it’s very much the yin to Grease‘s yang. The film’s simple story – written by Norman Wexler and based on an article for New York Magazine by Nik Cohn – concerns the teenager Tony Manero, a kid who lives for the weekends, alleviating the mundanity of his day job and the negativity of a raucous family by entering a more colourful, uplifting world of music and dancing in a Brooklyn disco club. Manero and his various dancing partners move together in sync, running through a series of pre-rehearsed moves, and for just a few hours a week he’s the king of the dancefloor, fawned over by local girls and admired by guys for the flap of his shirt collar, which at one point is a striking deep black contrasting against his bright white suit. After closing time, however, Tony’s back to being a nobody, arguing with his family and hanging around with his immature, homophobic, racist, sexist and violent friends, who seem to constantly drag him into troublesome situations.

The dance sequences and the songs featured here have rightly become iconic, and their cultural significance shouldn’t be underestimated, even if the fashion on display elicits chuckles today. The Bee Gees feature heavily on the soundtrack as performers and writers, as everyone knows, but there are lesser-known gems by MFSB and David Shire in there too, among others. It became the biggest selling soundtrack of all time, with canny marketing types trailing the film with a couple of Bee Gees songs several months before its release. In fact it’s hard to think of a film from the late 1970’s that’s as reliant on its music than this one, even when considering the likes of Grease, All That Jazz and New York, New York; it shows you how important disco was to many New Yorkers at the time, even though there’s a constant sense throughout that a more interesting disco scene lies just a couple of miles away in Manhattan, while history also dictates that a more interesting scene full stop was unfolding at the same time in The Bronx.

Perhaps the film has been misremembered because of all those clips of Travolta throwing shapes, or (more likely) because it was subsequently re-cut and re-released with a PG rating, but the original R/18-rated version is a street movie with plenty of edge, with some unexpected dark moments, most notably a gang-rape (with the victim cruelly described as ‘a cunt’ by Manero after the event). So it’s quite a nasty, downbeat film at times, which has presumably surprised a lot of people over the years who were expecting two hours of saccharine, Bee Gees-sponsored good times (or indeed anyone who initially watched the ‘kid-friendly’ version before later catching the original, uncut ‘adult’ version). Even the ending, which could easily have been structured around a victory in a disco dancing competition or something similar, is decidedly gloomy; there’s just a small amount of hope cast Tony’s way amid a whole lot of rejection, unhappiness and bluster-dampening. Yet some light shines through, and there’s genuine warmth from some of the supporting actors, such as Sam Coppola (Tony’s boss at the paint store) and Donna Pescow (the club girl who has fallen for Tony). Travolta is magnetic throughout, and not just on the dancefloor, though all the good work was undone in Sylvester Stallone’s terrible 1983 sequel Staying Alive.

Directed by: John Badham.
Written by: Norman Wexler.
Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Bruce Ornstein, Donna Pescow, Sam Coppola, Val Bisoglio, Julie Bovasso, Martin Shakar, Lisa Peluso.
Cinematography: Ralf D. Bode.
Editing: David Rawlins.
Music:
The Bee Gees / David Shire / Various.
Certificate:
18.
Running Time:
118.
Year:
1977.

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The debut film by Turkish-born, French-raised filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a strong, convincing drama that explores the bond between – and treatment of – five sisters living within an ultra-conservative Turkish village. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture earlier this year and won four prizes at the Césars, including one for the screenplay by the director and her writing partner Alice Winocour (herself the director of the recent thriller Disorder), and one for the original soundtrack by the Australian musician Warren Ellis. Few of the award ceremonies and festivals – major or minor – appear to have picked up on the excellent ensemble performance by the cast, though, particularly those playing the five sisters, who between them had very little acting experience beforehand. Their naturalistic performances are uniformly excellent, and together they completely convince as siblings, whether they’re sharing in-jokes together or goofing around in tangled heaps on the floor.

At the beginning of the film we see all of the girls – Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur and Lale, in order of age – on the last day of term, innocently playing with several male schoolmates in the sea. A minor amount of physical contact between the (still clothed) girls and boys causes a scandal to erupt within the community, and the sisters are all harshly punished for their behaviour by their legal guardians: a grandmother (Nihal Koldaş) and her son Erol (Ayberk Pekcan), who is also the girls’ uncle. (The boys, presumably, are not punished, and the screenplay implies as much by ignoring the other party completely, instantly highlighting how girls are treated differently.) In the wake of the incident – supposedly based on something that happened to the director when she was young – the three older girls are subjected to tests at the hospital to check that they are still virgins, while Lale (Güneş Şensoy) – the youngest and sparkiest – verbally attacks the woman who was originally outraged by their behaviour. The subsequent drama is an example of what happens when oppression escalates; the house the girls live in is turned into a ‘wife factory’, with toys and items used for communication locked away and cookery lessons taking place on a daily basis. Marriages are arranged for the older sisters, and the five are kept under house arrest. They rebel, sneaking out of the window to meet boys and, during one life-affirming scene, they attend a high profile football match where only female spectators are allowed (a couple of these have taken place in Turkey during the past five years). This causes Erol to add metal grilles to the doors and windows of the house, imprisoning the girls who are not yet old enough to marry.

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A haircut becomes a simple act of rebellion in Mustang.

The situation the girls are placed in is uncomfortable to consider, but conversely Mustang is – for the most part – an uplifting experience, given that the emphasis is on the dissent expressed by the sisters, as well as their unshakeable bond, which is as strong at the end of the film as it is at the beginning. One thinks of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, of course, and the two films share a hazy, soft-focus visual style, as well as certain plot points, though of course from a cultural perspective there’s some distance between them. The film caused some controversy within Turkey on its release, and the subject of women’s rights is a political hot potato within the country, given that it has repeatedly been raised as a problematic issue within the European Union, an organisation Turkey has sought accession to for a number of years. In the film the city of Istanbul is presented as a place where liberal attitudes prevail – at least in the eyes of Lale, who intends to go there if she can escape the house – and I’d be interested to know just how accurate Ergüven’s presentation of a divide between progressive city and conservative countryside actually is. It’s beautifully shot by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok, with the stiflingly-hot, early summer shoot and setting ensuring that blinding sunlight creeps into the frame repeatedly; you can feel the stickiness of the heat. With Lale in particular the film has a focus, a fearless girl whose acts of rebellion grow in tandem with her own determination to be independent and free. I hope the character and the film more generally inspire young women who are subjected to similar treatment, if of course they’re lucky enough to be able to see Mustang or are able to contribute to change within their own society. Ergüven’s film is a damning indictment of a culture in which young women are bartered and exchanged like cattle, but it’s also a force for good, and confidently-made.

Directed by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven.
Written by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour.
Starring: Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğan, Nihal Koldaş, Ayberk Pekcan, Erol Afşin.
Cinematography: David Chizallet, Ersin Gok.
Editing: Mathilde Van de Moortel.
Music: Warren Ellis.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Year: 2016.

 

 

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This tale about a wannabe DJ living in Los Angeles is a Zac Efron vehicle, and as you’d expect it’s a film that tries to capitalise on the doe-eyed-former-Disney-kid good looks of its star, though putting my snobbery aside for a minute I guess there’s nothing really wrong with that. His character’s nascent career is variously helped along and hindered by three thinly-drawn bros and a famous and successful DJ mentor, played by Wes Bentley, before problems begin to stack up and he gets involved with a girl he shouldn’t get involved with and life lessons must be learned and hey, he’s a good guy so let’s hope it all works out for him and blah blah fuckity blah. It’s a hyperactive, busy film that eventually forgoes all of its early, quirky touches (unimaginatively-rotoscoped drug sequences, on-screen captions, etc) for straightforward, clichéd plotting and the neat tying up of various loose ends, hitting all the usual notes of the man-rises-and-stutters-and-rises-again movie along the way. Throughout there’s a backdrop of depressingly glitzy, soulless nightclubs and pool parties, all of which are populated by (supposedly) perfect-looking extras who were presumably bussed over en masse from the Entourage movie. (Really, is LA even remotely like this? It looks awful.) The scenes that feature many of these actors dancing sum up the falseness of We Are Your Friends, which exhibits little genuine feeling for electronic music itself, or the passion of those who create it, listen to it or dance to it in real life. In fact the screenplay ends up making the tired old argument – long perpetuated by Luddite rock fans – that sounds coming from a machine are somehow inauthentic and a poor substitute for music that’s played on Proper Instruments, to which I thumb my nose and say ‘meh’ through a cheap vocoder. (Throughout all of the scenes in which Efron’s character makes music he looks like someone who absolutely hates everything about it, too, although having heard some of it during the film I can’t really say I blame him.) The entirely predictable ending is one low point, while another is the film’s 99 Homes-style foreclosures subplot, which features a truly dismal turn by Jon Bernthal as a baseball bat-wielding salesman. This film’s a turd, I’m sorry to report, although plenty of effort has gone into polishing it.

Directed by: Max Joseph.
Written by: Max Joseph, Meaghan Oppenheimer.
Starring: Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, Wes Bentley, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jonny Weston, Jon Bernthal.
Cinematography: Brett Pawlak.
Editing: Terel Gibson, David Dilberto.
Music: Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Year: 2015.

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Touted as a spiritual sequel to 1993’s Dazed And Confused, Richard Linklater’s semi-autobiographical Everybody Wants Some!! pretty much picks up at the point in teenage life where the earlier film ended; there’s a gap of five years or so between the two periods depicted and the characters are different, but the tone is similar and Linklater has again cast a number of unknown or barely-known actors. Where the mid-70’s-set Dazed And Confused ended with several high school seniors about to enjoy their summer – and heading off on the open road to pick up Aerosmith tickets – the 1980-set Everybody Wants Some!! begins with main protagonist Jake (Blake Jenner) college-bound and pumping The Knack’s My Sharona through his car stereo; a clear and intended segue between the two movies. He’s a pitcher with a university baseball scholarship, and he’s placed into one of two ‘baseball’ houses that are next door to one another, sharing with the other members of the college team. Some, like Jake, are freshmen, while those with a year or two of college experience under their belts aggressively attempt to assert their dominance over the new kids. We’re introduced to a dozen or so of these characters in a breathless opening passage, and though it’s initially confusing each one is distinguishable enough via personality traits or their appearance, becoming fairly familiar soon thereafter.

What we have here is a fraternity-style college comedy, though given the writer/director involved it’s no surprise that it’s a cut above most of the films you’ll find lurking within such a genre. The timeline covers the first weekend before classes begin, and there’s plenty of booze and drugs and partying and the kind of behaviour that seems wild or silly at the time, but Linklater’s focus on machismo, competitiveness and male insecurity lends a little heft to a film that would otherwise be nothing more than an entertaining but throwaway callback to the post-Animal House era. As Jake and co get to know one another their interractions are full of putdowns, insults, tricks and refusals to back down, while their desire to best one another at any sport or game (knuckle-rapping, aggressive darts, table tennis, baseball, etc.) is an amusing and sharply-observed skewering of a particularly masculine character trait. Of course not everyone in college is a jock with an iron will to win, and Linklater knows full well that not every jock matches the stereotype of bullying, heavy-drinking sexist either. Some of the characters in Everybody Wants Some!! fit that bill, as one or two did in Dazed And Confused, but it’s when the differences between the guys begin to manifest that things get interesting. Jake goes along with some of the bullying (particularly of his less-intelligent roommate), but Linklater and his lead are determined to imbue him with a softer, quieter side, which captures the attention of the film’s only female character of note, Beverly (Zoey Deutch). Elsewhere within Jake’s house there are certain other characters who stray far enough from the stereotypical jock model, such as Wyatt Russell’s Californian stoner, Temple Baker’s affable dumbass and Glen Powell’s entertaining guru-like bullshit merchant (this film could provide a springboard for Powell’s career in much the same way that Dazed And Confused did for Matthew McConaughey’s). Their various individual leanings are complemented by some material about the common practice of picking an off-the-shelf identity upon arrival at college (Kerouac-reading pipe smoker, punk, theatrical outsider, etc) and they shift chameleon-like between certain social groups accordingly. A few of the more alpha, aggressive characters also make an impression, such as Tyler Hoechlin’s swaggering and unpleasant team captain, Ryan Guzman’s second-in-command prettyboy and Juston Street’s amusingly over-the-top potential psychopath.

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Body language ahoy in Everybody Wants Some!!

Linklater films most of the women on campus as sex objects – which is how his characters view them as they cruise past in their cars – directing the camera toward their backsides. The discussions about women that these men enter into can be described as ‘unreconstructed’ at best, and spending time listening to their constant bragging and pick-up lines begins to wear thin over the course of the four evenings depicted. Deutch’s appearances in the film are fleeting until the final act, when extended conversational scenes between her character and Jake serve as a breath of fresh air after all the bro-bonding and sexism that has gone on. However, I don’t want to give the impression that sitting through the laddish behaviour that colours the majority of the film is a chore. Linklater brings warm-hearted, effervescent exuberance to the nightclub and party scenes, which are a whirl of amusingly-choreographed disco dancing, bucking broncos, downed drinks, punk moshing, and more. There are a number of highly enjoyable and utterly disposable scenes that do paint some of the guys in a slightly better light, too, such as the one in which five of them sing Rapper’s Delight as they roll around campus (a throwaway moment that left me smiling as much as I did when Wayne, Garth and friends took on Bohemian Rhapsody all those years ago); all of which is to say there are scenes here that I’d run a mile from in real life, and a few that I’d quite happily be a part of.

Like Dazed And Confused it’s the little details that inform the milieu: the lingering, lusty shots of cars, the sighting of a Reagan/Bush banner, the brief discussions about or references to bands of the era, the vinyl, and the clothes and physical features of the characters, which make some of them look as though they’ve just stepped off a gay porn shoot. In fact there’s an in-the-closet undercurrent throughout the film, manifest through the way some of the characters initiate awkward physical contact, and also the fact that one or two are clearly trying to cover-up their sexuality by over-emphasising their (fabricated) experiences with women. There’s much more going on in Linklater’s latest than your average college frat comedy, but it’s also quite successful as one of those too, so it’s like you’re watching a film in a bizarre alternate universe in which a stoner Whit Stillman has written Porky’s. The Texan director is at his best when dealing with teenage growing pains – though fans of the Before series may argue otherwise – and although Everybody Wants Some!! is unlikely to be remembered quite as fondly as its mid-70s spiritual predecessor, there’s still plenty of fun to be had as Linklater lets his film meander in a similar fashion.

Directed by: Richard Linklater.
Written by: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Tyler Hoechlin, Quinton Johnson, Zoey Deutch, Temple Baker, Ryan Guzman, Wyatt Russell, Will Brittain, Forrest Vickery, Tanner Kalina, Austin Amelio, Juston Street.
Cinematography: Shane F. Kelly.
Editing: Sandra Adair.
Music: Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 117 minutes.
Year: 2016.

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The second film by Lucile Hadžihalilović is an odd blend of different genres, successfully serving as minimalist sci-fi, ethereal seaside folk tale and unsettling body horror (though it’s worth stressing at this early stage that Evolution beguiles and intrigues much more than it repulses). The setting is a village of cube-shaped white buildings that sits next to a rocky outcrop (it was filmed in Lanzarote, notable for its volcanic rock and black sand), and there is something strange about the society depicted: almost instantly we notice that there are seemingly no grown men and no young women, only pre-pubescent boys and their mothers. Each of these women has one son, while they all wear similar dresses and tie their hair back in an identical fashion; the boys are dressed in swimming shorts, sometimes with t-shirts, and little else. We meet one of them – Nicolas (Max Brebant) – right away, as he swims underwater; he spots the dead body of another boy of roughly the same age, who has a starfish resting on his stomach. His mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) tells him that he imagined the body, and if that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing then one glimpse of the seaweedy, green gruel that she feeds him or the squid ink-like medicine she administers ought to.

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Max Brebant as Nicolas

Nicolas’ curiosity matches our own, and for a period the film does provide some answers to its initial mysteries, with the main character seeking to find out more about this place, his upbringing and his purpose. At night the women leave their houses and gather on the beach to writhe around orgasmically (forming the shape of a starfish), a ritual that Nicolas views from a hiding place in the rocks. Is this taking place within our own world, or some weird equivalent? Is it the present day, recent past or near future? Some answers are provided (even as late as the film’s final shot) but the flow of information becomes more sporadic when, almost without warning, Nicolas is taken to a nearby hospital with dimly-lit rooms and corridors stained shipwreck-green. To reveal more is potentially unfair on those who haven’t seen the film, so I’ll refrain from giving any further details away, but suffice it to say what transpires next is very odd. It’s certainly easy enough to follow, but Hadžihalilović tantalisingly leaves plenty of questions unanswered.

Doubtless the ambiguity of Evolution will be problematic for some, but for me it wholly suits the film’s latter half, which is laden with images that are often veering between the pleasantly dreamy and the downright nightmarish. The film’s production design is spot on, with few bold colours evident except for the red of Nicolas’ shorts and the starfish, later echoed by the blood of different characters. That starfish form also keeps appearing, and in one scene we see lights in that shape reflected in Nicolas’ eyes; it’s a small moment, but an excellent one nonetheless. The crustacea and underwater life that features has its inherent weirdness highlighted too; much of these creatures are familiar to us but could just as easily have crawled into this film from Ridley Scott’s Alien, that titan of body horror. Additionally the photography is very good indeed; as well as the proliferation of gorgeous underwater shots, cinematographer Manuel Dacosse makes fine, inventive use of just a few locations: the rocks where the sea hits the shore and, the village with its attenant hospital. The size of the setting never feels restrictive, though, and the fact we never venture too far from a few key places serves to further enhance our questions about this place and the world it’s set in. What a fine film this is: weird, but not self-consciously so, lyrical, beautiful, unsettling and – eventually – as haunting as Zacarías M. de la Riva’s score. It offers interesting riffs on rights of passage, motherhood and bonding.

Directed by: Lucile Hadžihalilović.
Written by: Lucile Hadžihalilović.
Starring: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier.
Cinematography: Manuel Dacosse.
Editing: Nassim Gordji-Tehrani.
Music: Zacarías M. de la Riva.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 82 minutes.
Year: 2016.

4 Comments