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Un lac (Philippe Grandrieux, 2008)

April 15, 2012

Epileptic shaky camera, claustrophobic close-ups, creaking and cracking noises.

A family, parents plus three children, lives in a remote part of the Alps. The oldest son works as a lumberjack, despite his epileptic fits, and seems to have a morbid attraction towards his sister. One day, a stranger appears and things will quickly change. Short synopsis for a film that doesn’t care at all about narrative instances.

Philippe Grandrieux’s Un lac is made of details,  sometimes almost too intimate. We rarely see bodies in their entirety, and when that happens, they’re usually out of focus, or emerging from the darkness. Like his previous works (Sombre, La vie nouvelle), Grandriuex aims to involve all the senses of the viewer, not only his sight. That’s why the focus is on the heavy breathing, of both man and horse, on the oscillating trees and the wind that passes through them, on the water that drips from the youngest son’s tiny fingers, on the cracking noise of bread being chewed.

Grandriuex’s style is embracing without being comfortable. You find yourself submerged with sensations and feelings, even if there’s no effort from the director to concentrate on the emotional aspects of the story. The story is in the tradition of Pasolini’s Teorema or Miike’s Visitor Q, but in this case it seems that the unexpected arrival of a strangers is not about to subvert the normal flow of events, since, apparently, there never was a real balance.  Dialogues are scarce, inside the house everyone is enveloped in darkness, despite the orange lights  everything looks cold, the mother seems more like a ghost than a person and the father, who appears only near the end, talks through his eyes, that say more than every word possibly could.

But in the end, something really changes, as we hear a gentle piano music accompanying the sister’s heavenly singing, the first and only moment in which we hear music. “It’s not like before… your voice”. Despite this, the images remain blurry, we still hear the panting breath, and the only comfort to the darkness inside the house is the emptiness of the surroundings, although the snow is grey, not white.  It’s worth noticing that all the actors recite in frech despite being Russian and Czech, almost as the few words being spoken were foreign even to the person that is talking, resulting in a detached and cold acting. This is compensated by the incredible physical feeling that the camera transmits, as in the opening, one of the most engaging I’ve ever saw.

While La vie nouvelle tended to be more experimental, Un lac is a more mature, yet   intimate, work. Still searching for new ways to subvert the language of today’s cinema, Grandrieux is not interested in narrating stories, but tries to convert images into physical sensations. That’s why there are no truly innovative elements in this movie, but the general result is fascinating nonetheless,  something in the vein of Bartas’ Few of Us, similar for ambient and atmosphere, but differently paced, being frantic and claustrophobic even in its most contemplative moments.

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