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Carre Blanc
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by Jay Seaver

"Can this ice-cold movie (and world) warm up?"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: So you've created a dystopic future based on existing brutalist architecture and creative cruelty. Now what? That's a question that one can easily spend a lot of time asking during "Carré Blanc" before it ultimately offers an answer. It's a good-enough answer, although many viewers may want more.

Sometime in the future, the human race is dwindling, with one of the sad statistics being Philippe's mother (Fejria Deliba), whose suicide sends him to a corporate orphanage of sorts. Though his making it to adulthood is in some ways a near thing, he (Sami Bouajila) winds up working for the company that raised him. In many ways, he's become just as heartless as the rest of the world around him, in marked contrast to his wife Marie (Julie Gayet), who is just about ready to leave him.

There are hints of a world interesting both for being satiric and speculative scattered throughout the movie, mostly in the form of radio snippets that suggest the world population is dropping precipitously and that croquet is the most popular form of entertainment. Humanity seems to be consuming itself, quite literally, faster than it can reproduce, with an increasing callousness and dehumanization of what should be one-to-one interactions.

That's all very well and good, but it is some kind of drudgery getting through the introduction to the actual usage of this world-building. It's got stretches where the characters don't talk that are long enough for the suggestion to be that they can't, and stretches of them tormenting each other that extend much longer than need be. They begin to establish what sort of abuse the powerful can get away with, but they're just doing that - despite the long time taken in getting Philippe and Marie to where they are, they often still seem like ciphers.

Don't blame Bouajila and Gayet too much for that; "cold" is the world that they are expected to fit into, and they do very well by it. It is, in fact, quite an excellent depiction of a dying marriage, with Gayet's Marie expressing profound disappointment even before she's allowed to articulate it in a way that both cuts like a knife and breaks the heart, as well as moments when neither she nor the audience should be quite clear on whether inertia or hope keeps her with him. Bouajila, meanwhile, does a nice job of hiding and then uncovering (with great difficulty) a decent man underneath the deadened corporate cog; though sometimes a little stiffer than the part seems to require, it seems to be more a case of one layer being very thick than him not having layers.

In some ways, that goes for the whole movie; writer/director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti crafts his tale with great precision, and while certain metaphors are obvious, they work. For as dour as the movie can be, Léonetti manages to sneak a few fantastic stingers of dark humor into it, and the radio broadcasts that pepper the soundtrack are often just as absurd as they are vaguely horrifying. David Nissen contributes striking, stark cinematography of frequently ugly locations.

Could it use a much surer hand at points? Sure, especially where pacing is concerned; there are points where this 77-minute movie seems to drag on forever. But as the characters assert themselves toward the end, it becomes a quietly intense cry for decency in a cruel world and well worth the effort.

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originally posted: 08/04/12 23:22:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2011 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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