Plonger: "I need to disappear"
by Fabien Lemercier
- TORONTO 2017: Mélanie Laurent unveils a feverish three-act melodrama, spanning three different countries and starring María Valverde and Gilles Lellouche
The consuming passion of new love, the feeling that life in a steady relationship is causing one’s own horizons to shrink and the whirlwind of disruption and exhaustion unleashed by the arrival of a first child: these are universal life experiences that have supplied fodder for countless films in many different genres. This is the ground that Mélanie Laurent has chosen to revisitin Plonger [+see also:
film profile], an adaptation of the novel by Christophe Ono-Di-Biot and her fourth round in the director’s chair (after The Adopted [+see also:
film profile], Breathe [+see also:
interview: Lou de Laâge
film profile] and the documentary Tomorrow [+see also:
film profile]). The resulting film, a feverish melodrama, has just premiered in a Special Presentation in Toronto. Alongside this study of such ubiquitous emotions, however, we find another, parallel theme — the necessary conditions for artistic creation, explored through the film’s heroine, a photographer. In its final section, the film takes up yet another direction as it morphs into a quasi-detective story. It’s a narrative approach that allows Laurent to break away from the limited compass of marriage psychology to travel to the Middle East, to the dive sites of the Sultanate of Oman.
For Paz (María Valverde) and César (Gilles Lellouche) it’s love at first sight — the kind of headlong infatuation that escalates rapidly. Their eyes meet at an exhibition, and after chasing one another wildly across Spain and engaging in a passionate back-seat romp, their relationship blossoms in a holiday haze as they revel in their discovery of one another. He is a journalist, a former war reporter, while she is best known for making films about unremarkable places. Eventually, they must both return to a more mundane existence, and the pair move in together in Paris. Although they love each other, for Paz this marks the beginning of a dark and painful spiral. She immediately feels constricted by this routine life in their shared apartment, a feeling that only intensifies when César forbids her from travelling to Yemen, which he regards as too dangerous for a female photographer (“I wouldn’t go there, and you won’t either”). Instead, Paz heads to Sant-Nazaire, where she meets an international group of young activists who introduce her to the sounds of the deep sea while tracking a school of sharks using GPS. This pastime soon becomes an obsession when, now pregnant, Paz sinks into a depression (“I feel old”, “I’m fading”) that causes her to fear that she is losing her artistic abilities (“no focus, no thought, no perception”). With her initial joy progressively shattering and falling away, Paz gives birth to a son. She soon slips into a living nightmare of depression, shutting herself off from the world and arguing constantly with César. Then, suddenly, she disappears, and César must wait for several months before he uncovers the dramatic ending to the story.
Plonger is an intriguing film that leverages its partial setting in the dive sites of Oman to great effect. Nevertheless, it struggles to rouse any genuine sense of empathy for the two central characters, whose underlying motivations are never entirely clear, despite laudable performances from both actors. Ultimately, there’s something a bit artificial about the particular blend of baby blues and artistic doubt that plagues Paz (whose real name is Dolores); it seems to be a mere pretext for shifting the narrative towards more stirring and tragic terrain. It doesn’t quite come together into a convincing whole, despite the insistent originality of its staging and editing.
(Translated from French)
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