À travers la forêt (2005)

28 05 2008

Not too long ago, I discreetly sang the praises of Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s Le doux amour des hommes, a film which seemed to triumphantly announce a new defiant voice in French cinema. One on par with Denis, Desplechin, Assayas, and so on. In that film, Civeyrac’s wonderful eye for visuals clashed awkwardly with the aesthetics of a digital camera. In this film, he’s upgraded and the result is one of the most beautifully photographed films of all time. However, he has unfortunately traded in the simple “relationship drama” setup of his previous film for something less straight-forward and more metaphysical.

Armelle is coping with the death of her boyfriend, Renaud, rather poorly. Her two sisters treat her ongoing depression with different approaches; Roxane is slightly more caring and buys into Armelle’s accounts of supernatural sex, while Bérénice is far more realistic and advises her sister to find a replacement. Instead, Roxane takes Armelle to a medium. While there, she spots a man that looks identical to Renaud but, as it turns out, he is involved with someone else.

Within the time frame of a mere sixty-five minutes, Civeyrac establishes an atmosphere bursting with poetry. The entire film is built from ten shots, which can be described as “floating.” They’re just tracking shots but Civeyrac captures every sequence with an easy-going flow that is free from interruptions. In a way, the long takes are reminiscent of Miklos Jancso had he only worked in a more closed environment. Lest I forget that every shot seems to be created with the objective of capturing as much as beauty as possible. In that case, it certainly helps to have Camille Berthomier, who carries what would otherwise be an unlikable character, in the lead role.

So I guess I could simply say that this is pretty much a case of a film that has all the technical things right, but none of the dramatic ones. Instead, I’m quite undecided on how I ultimately feel about the narrative. Normally, I would never praise a film that is about something so (self-consciously) spiritual but Civeyrac is a talented enough director for me to think he is above such a style. Actually, if anything, the film’s whole supernatural story leaves me rather indifferent since every sequence is captured with such care and attention. Really, the film’s biggest problem is the few sequences in which it reverts to a level of conventional horror film. There’s one scene, in particular, that seems to have been directly lifted from Repulsion or Inland Empire. No matter how important it to the film as a whole, it is really embarrassing to have such a silly “scary” moment. Remove such unflattering sequences and I might be a little less cautious in calling it a masterpiece. For now, it is great advancement in cinema, but also an experiment that has some nasty side-effects.

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6 responses

28 05 2008
Jan S

can’t help but totally love these weird “mystery-but-not” films (Rivette’s “Duelle” being the godfather to all of them), but I knew you wouldn’t dig it completely. What’s the silly scare you’re talking about though?

28 05 2008
Jan S

Also, pretty much all of Civeyrac’s other self-written films have more or less the exact same setup to them, only that they’re not on the same aesthetical level as this one right here. You might wanna see “All the Fine Promises” next, as it’s based on an Anne Wiazemsky novel (yes, that’s right), though I don’t like it nearly as much as “Forêt” or “Fantômes”.

28 05 2008
Jake Savage

The scene where the phone rings and she walks around in pitch black. No cheap scare, I suppose but still really made it hard for me to love the film. I guess I also use to like these “mystery but not” films but perhaps ? I will look into Rivette, though. From the interviews I’ve read of him, he sounds like a huge asshole (if only for mocking Hou) but a lot of his stuff looks enticing. Maybe I should start with Love on the Ground? I haven’t been feeding my Jane Birkin obsession for quite some time.

I plan to see all of Civeyrac’s films eventually, but I’ll make All the Fine Promises the highest priority. Thanks for the recommendation.

28 05 2008
Jan S

Haha, good thing I seldom read any Interviews. I saw “Love on the Ground” like, 2 days ago, and it’s fucking brilliant, if a little too dependant on dialogue. You should consider either one of the 2 we mentioned or “Merry-Go-Round” as your first Rivette (“Duelle” and “Merry” being the much, much more visual films). Whatever looks most appealing to you. I love them all, although “Duelle” does of course have the crazy supernatural mystery factor to it that I inexplicably love so much.

28 05 2008
Jan S

Wait, there’s only a german subtitled version of MGR. Never mind then.

28 09 2011
Igor

In the “horror scene” you mention,
does the face of the girl change, besides her voice, as she is talking about dead?

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