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February 27, 2006

L'Enfer, 2005

enfer.gifDuring an oral dissertation that occurs near the denouement of L'Enfer, the youngest sister Anne (Marie Gillain) is randomly assigned the topic of Euripedes' Greek tragedy Medea, a mythological character who, betrayed by her husband Jason, exacted revenge by killing their children. The allegory of Medea would prove to be an insightful framework into the fractured, disparate lives of Anne's estranged family as well. Her volatile, married sister Sophie (Emmanuelle Béart) has become increasingly consumed with a crippling obsession over her husband's infidelity. Her introverted sister Céline (Karin Viard) continues to lead an emotionally closed life of self-devotion and predictable ritual by dutifully attending to their invalid, embittered mother (Carole Bouquet) in a secluded nursing home, even as she wrestles with her surfacing feelings for an enigmatic, handsome stranger named Sébastien (Guillaume Canet) who begins to court her undivided attention. Even Anne's seeming youthful idealism cannot mask a life-altering personal crisis as she struggles to make sense of her married lover (and professor) Frédéric's (Jacques Perrin) unexpected rejection after informing him of her pregnancy. Segueing into her literary exposition with the remark, "Today, tragedy is no longer possible," Anne's evocation of modern-day tragedy as the walking wounded tersely encapsulates the invisible, yet immediately palpable repercussions of the sisters' own deep rooted childhood trauma surrounding their father's (Miki Manojlovic) imprisonment (and subsequent death) and their mother's cold, retreated silence, as the siblings embody a figurative, sacrificial death at the hands of parents' tumultuous marriage, yet survive to bear the collective scars of their broken childhood into their unreconciled, adult lives. Invoking the spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski through similar aesthetics of thematic color palettes (in the compositional representation of the sisters) and imagery (most notably, a drowning insect struggling to make its way out of a glass from Decalogue, and a shot of an elderly lady recycling bottles that recurs through all the films of the Three Colors trilogy) and realizing a scenario by Kieslowski and long-time collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Danis Tanovic further creates a Bergmanesque atmosphere of claustrophobia and Antonioni-inspired interior landscapes of profound desolation. Unfolding as fragments of an elliptical puzzle that, when reconstructed, precisely interconnect to reveal a portrait of revenge, self-absorption, and despair, L'Enfer is a thoughtful and articulate examination of the myopia and untold legacy of human cruelty and emotional warfare: a metaphoric representation of hell as a godless - and graceless - existential plane of inured suffering, silence, longing, and disconnection.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 27, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Rendez-vous with French Cinema


Acquarello, thanks for writing about L'Enfer. Though I haven't seen it, I'm glad to know that Tanovic maintains Kieslowski's aesthetic. I happened to really enjoy Tykwer's Heaven (even if Tywker's handling of human interiority wasn't on par with Kieslowski's), and I'm looking forward to seeing this. Do you by any chance know if L'Enfer is going to be distributed in the U.S. at all? I haven't been able to find any release dates (unless it appeared last year and I completely overlooked it).

Posted by: Michael on Mar 01, 2006 1:02 PM | Permalink

From the literature I picked up before the screening, there really just seemed to be the Toronto premiere last year, then Rendez-vous later this month for North America, so it's safe to say that it's still in the film festival circuit. There wasn't a distributor attached to it the beginning of the film beyond MK2/France, so it's probably still undistributed.

I'd say that Tanovic is definitely more self-consciously stylized than Kieslowski. For instance, his really elaborate opening sequence seemed to be a more convoluted version of the transmission of phone lines in the opening sequence of Red. It went from a kind of geometric progression of something abstractly hellish that ends up with this shot of a cuckoo being return to the nest by the father (then the fledgling punts the remaining eggs so it doesn't have to share the nest). Kieslowski's stylization is more subtle in that regard, but still gets the metaphor across. There's a Tarantinoesque, new generation film school "hip" factor in Tanovic's aesthetic, like wild pans and temporally altered motion sequences. I don't personally find it too distracting, but it does call attention to the stylization rather than the story.

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 01, 2006 2:48 PM | Permalink

Well I hope L'Enfer gets picked up by some distributor. If not, I'll have to await anxiously for the DVD release.

That's interesting about Tanovic's style; to me, Kieslowski's style is present but slightly understated, and sort of melds into the story. I could see how the hip factor might be distracting for a story such as this, but it's good to know it isn't too over-the-top. Looking forward to seeing it.

Posted by: Michael on Mar 01, 2006 4:30 PM | Permalink

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