September 23, 2019  (Web Review)


Criterion, 148 min., in French w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

The second feature by controversial French filmmaker Bruno Dumont is a stark and sedate portrait of an emotionally devastated cop who investigates the brutal murder of an 11-year-old girl. Although ostensibly a mystery, the 1999 film is more focused on the odd, empathic Pharaon De Winter (Emmanuel Schotté), a deeply alienated police detective living in a cruel world that his left him lonely and adrift. Both our hero and guide, Pharaon—who has a perpetually blank expression, unnervingly wide eyes and the slow, careful speech of a child—is more naïve innocent than worldly investigator. He longs for his earthy, married neighbor (Séverine Caneele) and struggles to understand the brutality that he faces in his job. Dumont directs with a hypnotic mix of startling violence (he opens the film with the unnerving sight of a naked murdered girl, shown in all its ugly brutality), explicit sexuality (displayed with matter-of-fact bluntness), and long scenes of quiet observation. The film became a cause célèbre at the Cannes Film Festival when it won the Grand Jury Prize and acting awards for stars Schotté and Caneele. Dumont makes the film purposefully obscure and affronts his audience with startling violence and sex, but underneath this lies a compassionate work that challenges viewers to forgive even the most monstrous sins. Presented with a new 4K restoration, extras include a new interview with Dumont, a 2014 conversation between Dumont and critic Philippe Rouyer, archival TV segments, and a booklet with an essay by critic Nicholas Elliott. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)