Deep in the middle of nowhere, ensconced in a forest, a family—blind mother, elderly father, twentysomething son and daughter (the latter prone to seizures), and a toddler—eke out a primitive existence chopping down trees. One day, a mysterious stranger arrives and disrupts the balance of things. The dialogue is terse, and everyone speaks French with an inexplicably foreign accent, amplifying the sense of estrangement. The ultimate extremity of otherness, the film reminds us, is often found close to home.
It’s appropriate to call Philippe Grandrieux an experimental filmmaker insofar as we, the audience, are the guinea pigs. (That’s one reason Marilyn Manson’s a fan.) Un lac relies entirely on an unnerving handheld camera, often capturing claustrophobic close-ups of the actors, counterbalanced by heady, blurry, desaturated landscape photography that owes as much to the ideas of Nietzsche and Heidegger as to the imagery of Caspar David Friedrich and Gerhard Richter. Given the Teutonic undertones, it’s easy to forget that the director is actually French.
A telling anecdote involves a festival screening of Un lac delayed by Grandrieux who insisted on total darkness in the room and sought to block out the glow coming from the theater’s exit signs. Indeed, there are passages in the film that achieve what could be called a “film degree zero” of blackness—moments in which visible action dissolves and the screen becomes nothing less than a portal into the void. (And if that doesn’t make the distributors reach for their checkbooks, nothing will.)
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