January 8, 2005
La Vie nouvelle, 2002
While Sombre embodies the categorization of quasi-allegorical gothic fairytale, La Vie nouvelle can be described as quasi-mythological in its underlying plot. Implementing a slow reveal from darkness to a jittery, contextually ambiguous image that similarly occurs in the opening sequence of Sombre (in this film, of anonymous women's faces staring out into space), the effect is one of abstract dissociation from a real, physical realm and into a subconscious one as a group of transients seemingly emerge from the ruins of a bombed-out, post-apocalyptic wasteland, including a disillusioned American expatriate named Seymour (Zachary Knighton) who willfully parts with his concerned, apprehensive comrades and re-emerges at a seedy nightclub where he is seduced and propositioned by Melania (Anna Mouglalis), a beautiful abducted woman forced to work by her captors as a prostitute at the club's adjoining private rooms (note Boyan's (Zsolt Nagy) allusive manipulation of Melania's movements at a rave party that evokes Jean's vocation as a puppeteer in Sombre). Beguiled by the enigmatic, captive woman and haunted by their brief, truncated encounter, Seymour becomes increasingly obsessed with her. Revisiting his earlier themes of possession and unrequited love, Grandrieux's cold and dour palette in Sombre has been replaced by warm (yet equally dark and somber) hues, and in particular, red, which reinforces the figurative symbolism of the nightclub as a mythological underworld. Grandrieux retains his penchant for sublimely composed, idiosyncratically experimental (yet intrinsically lucid) sequences, most notably in Seymour and Melania's fractured, temporally-altered dream-like nocturnal escape on a motorcycle, and Melania's seeming behavioral transformation from femme fatale to savage beast through negative projection of textural, high-contrast black and white imagery. Diffused tracking shots (often to the point of abstraction), unsteady angles, de-eroticized intimacy, and minimal dialogue pervade the film to create an accomplished and highly elliptical - albeit sordid, thematically ambiguous, and oftentimes bewildering - psychological portrait of primal behavior, violence, despair, and human longing.