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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 07.07.10] France review thriller

Year: 2010
Directors: Vincent Ostria
Writers: Vincent Ostria & Philippe Petit
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: The Crystal Ferret
Rating: 5 out of 10

Sometimes we get unknown jewels thrust at us in unexpected ways. That why when we got this proposal from a totally unknown director to watch his first movie, the trailer being appealing enough, I’ve jumped on the occasion.

So here I am, in this bobo-entertainment-plex, waiting for the movie to start with an ineffable crowd of 6 people. Good thing about this kind of art house is the total absence of adverts and teasers. Light goes off, and …

3 blokes in a rundown room, with some pseudo-mystic symbol stabiloed inexpertly on the wall. They’re dressed in some post-80’s attires (that is to said « so badly dressed it’s bound to be a style” ). As they speak in some germenglish we are introduced to the concept of dullified medium-seance. The aforesaid medium, some tart looking like she’s just jumped from a Desireless music-video is struggling and babbling about something black and white, something terrible that’s bound to happen, somewhere, in a building, a rundown habitation building in a dead end alley filled with garbage. It’s clearly obvious that the impending doom surrounding the building is crushing upon her ( well “clearly obvious” is the intended effect I guess, she looks more pressed to go to the privy than terrorised ).

So … it’s gonna be so awful that some medium, someplace, caught the psychic wave of the crime at distance and/or years away. Intriguing isn’t it ?

Cut to black, title insert, spelled backward by the way.
And here goes the actual movie.

We see Munsky, our fearless hero trying to change jobs, tired of being a dope dealer, he wants to open a bookshop. To that end he’s trying to sell industrial grade sewing machines.

He’s living in the sibyl’s building with some critically ill Asian worker that didn’t leave when the textile workshop closed.

The only odd things in his, fairly common, life are parcels being dropped in front of his door. Kraft and rope parcels, containing jelly. Cubes of jelly straight out of some teenage dungeon and dragon session. As he kills the beast, and earns 5 experience points, the loot coming out of it is a tube containing black power.

Mysterious new dope ? pulverised chocolate ? what is that powder ? it’s the great mystery, the absolute unknown supporting the movie by it’s single presence.

After that it starts to get a little confused, it might be justified as the unclear vision of the sibyl unfolding in front of us, but the general feel sways us away from that simple explanation.

The attention span of a duck being now the standard amongst humans, this movie, like so many others, is a succession of sequences and scenettes having sometime no relation between them apart for the characters. Each of theses trying to be of symbolic significance. Such as “driver less car rolling down a slope finally crashing off screen as the hero walks by” It COULD be a parabola on the ineluctability of existence, our lives unstoppable juggernauts heading blindly toward oblivion, or it could be filed into “WTF ? seriously…”

Or, “Hero and prospective buyer, walking down the street”, same clothes same size : too small on one, too large on the other. “They pass by the eerie looking guy, prospective buyers wears off the mask of his psyche”, in some traditional “I’ve seen Satan” idiomatic gesture.
Could be metaphor on how people can’t fit in the mould of society (with the ill fitted suits), could be something about how evil prays on everyone, finally it is also completely lost on the viewer.

Next in line, to comply with the usual standards of modern cinema, there is a sex scene, dull, emotionless, badly shot, that would have benefited from being a) absent or b) porn

The most blatant thing emerging is an absolute lovecraftian character design : they are not human beings but pretexts for the story to unfold and swirl around them. Sadly this particular scenaristic contraption needs a powerful story to be justified. It’s not here. The point is, there’s no story, just an accumulation of badly executed cinematic phrases.

You know how bollywood makes movies using crtl+c/crtl+v from occidental classics ? It’s the same here, there are clichés of film noir, classic Russian expressionism, bits and bobs of dogma, and a total and unconditional copyism of 90’s East-European avant-garde, as well as masters like Eisenstein, Kalatosov and Tarkovsky.

I can’t really tell if it is homage to a certain cinema, or trying to get away with plagiarism because it’s so unknown that nobody will ever notice. The lacks of mastery in this copy-pasting feels almost like a “Russian post modernism parody”, if not for the total seriousness of tone.

Fact is, once you’ve seen the humongous influence of eastern cinema, lots of things click into place, and the global image is less fragmented and incoherent.
That said, it doesn’t change some of the biggest flaws.

The colour disclaimer, by example, really spoils the mystery constructed afterwards. The « crime » feels after that neither horrendous, nor terrible, nothing at all but in the end a simple act of charity, like putting down an injured horse. Our expectations of blackened gore and other corn-syrupy effects are cut short.

As a matter of fact, the spoiled effects are a constant throughout the whole movie. The pivotal vending point is the black power delivered in a cube a jelly. All its eerie implication are destroyed halfway to be replaced with a dull pseudo-scientific reason for it to be there. Each and every part of poetry/mystery/wonder is eventually trodden upon only to leave blandness and bore.

Would the main protagonist be less contented with his life, we could look a it as an essay on boredom, on how to convey to the spectators the unlife of an empty husk flowing around. But no, he’s happy as a clam.

So what’s the purpose of this bashing ? is it even conscious ? the trailer actually bails everything on mystery and ambience .And there is the biggest and clearest dichotomy of the work.

There is no uneasiness trust upon the viewer, no pity, no rage, no fear, no nothing, not a single emotion is driven unto us, big screen or not, it simply fails to move the audience.

Sadly there could be a lot of meaning, but all we ever get of it is the back cover. Express treatment and summarisation is the leitmotiv, quickly brushing what would have been asset to the narration if treated otherwise.

Like the 3 sewing machines trying to be sold, are they Clotho Lachesis and Atropos ? could have been, yet after the 2 sequences involving them, they are completely forgotten for the rest of the movie.
Then there is the problem of ideology, every bit of flickering light vows total and absolute admiration to the soviet era, the locations feels like some Lithuanian suburbs, the names of the characters are also eastern sounding, the way they dress, the way they interact with each other, everything screams of some unresolved issues with the grandeur and iconography of the USSR.

Which brings interesting questions and issues during the course of the movie like
When the hero, dressed like a Russian refugee of 1976,is strangling to death some Vietnamese guy agonising from textile work. Is that a metaphor of Marxist oppression in Asia ? A parabola on how capitalism destroys everything for money? An acerb critic of the red imperialism ? if so why such and admiration for soviet era art ? And what with that patriotic sounding hymn the Asian guy sings like a syphilitic swan before the end ?

To sum the whole up, it’s awkwardly mastered, there is potential, some scenes are well executed. But with no clear, artistic or directing, drive while trying so hard to pass for tortured and deeply laden with meaning, it really feels like the work of a 45 years old teenager in need of justification for his existence.

It’s like having a Ronsard poem written in SMS. You clearly see the intention, but it does feel anything like the original. It’s shallow in the end, dull, lifeless.

And why such blatant racism ? Yes, Racism, that’s what I call having a character rant on and on about immigrants from the Bosphorus who’ll boost the drug sales, and murdering a boat people/textile worker.

Be it on screen of on DVD , the image quality isn’t satisfying, the screening artefacts are replaced with encoding one. The flatness of the picture only echoing that of the story-line and execution.

Without this obsession to be “slovenian avant-garde of the late seventies”, the movie could have been quite good. In the end it’s only trying to be a lot of things, not succeeding in one, having a more focused stance would have benefited greatly.

As it is, until it’s followed by a sequel titled “Punishment”, explaining and developing what’s hinted, it’s not really worthwhile.

Visibly, a strange beginning isn’t all.

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Anonymous (9 years ago) Reply

Proof reading is your friend. As is the appropriate use of punctuation. I recommend both. Yow. Hard to take a review that sloppily written seriously at all.


Anonymous (9 years ago) Reply

Have you never heard of Camus' "L'Etranger" ? He kills an Arab, but is he racist for that matter ? Go back to school !


Redemptor (9 years ago) Reply

On the other hand Sly Stallone can hatchet a million gooks with a snarl on his face and nobody gives a damn…

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