Friday, August 25, 2006

Lemming (2005)

LemmingThe British Film Industry may be stuck in the doldrums, but the French one is positively booming, at least if my experience with French titles released on DVD this year is anything to go by.

Lemming is another release from the excellent Artificial Eye, who specialise in releasing 'World Cinema' films, with the emphasis very much on 'critically acclaimed' movies. I've yet to find an Artificial Eye release I didn't enjoy, and Lemming is no exception, although it's a film that's hard to slot into any given category.

The film starts out almost as a humorous rom-com. Alain, played by Laurent Lucas, and his wife Benedicte, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg are a young 'model' couple who've just moved into a new house, with Alain having started a new job. He enjoys his work and his successful life and believes control is the key to his happiness. Then he invites his boss and his wife (played, in wonderfully suspenseful fashion, by Charlotte Rampling) to dinner and Alain's controlled life falls apart, starting with the discovery of a dead lemming blocking a sink outlet just before the guests arrive very late, and continuing into a dinner that will have your toes curling in discomfort at the way the boss's wife behaves. For the hero of the piece, things start to get very messy and very bad very quickly, and when a man's down you just know that's when he's going to get hit harder and harder.

What starts off as a gentle, albeit rather black, comedy suddenly turns into a psychological suspense story, then seems to become a Japanese-styled horror movie, and finally a supernatural thriller. This mixing and matching of genres might all sound a bit of a mess, but director Dominik Moll somehow manages to steer it all in a consistent direction. The film's greatest strength is the way it continually surprises you - just when you think you've figured it all out and know where it's going, it throws a wild curve at you. It's a long film at just over two hours, and perhaps too slow in places for the MTV attention deficit generation, but for me the suspense never once let up and there aren't many films these days that keep you guessing all the way through, the way this one does.

In truth, the film owes a lot to Alfred Hitchcock - it's very reminiscent of the best of his work in the 40's and 50's, and is all the more enjoyable for all that. Like Hitchcock's movies sound is cleverly used to build suspense, and the performances throughout are excellent, with Rampling being the stand for me, as the chilling villainess of the piece. Where the film falls somewhat is in its denoument. While the ending will prompt much discussion, it lacks the rational explanation one might have hoped for, even though common sense tells you as you watch the film that there isn't going to be a nice tidy, controlled explanation for everything that's happened. Ultimately Lemming is a ghost story, albeit one that doesn't really tie things up with a nice neat bow, but there's enough here to stimulate water cooler conversations for days afterwards and that can only be a good thing.

There is no director's commentary on the DVD, but fortunately one's not needed, as everything that needs to be covered and/or explained is covered in a 30 minute English interview with the director. Six (not five, as indicated on the box) featurettes of 3-6 minutes duration each, cover some of the aspects of the film and provide a useful 'behind the scenes' look that is unusual on foreign language releases.

If you don't 'get' Hitchcock, or can't stand films with subtitles then this is not for you. But if you want something thought-provoking and stimulating this comes highly recommended.

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