La Lapidation De St. Etienne
by Laurence Boyce
06/07/2012 - Pera Vilà Barceló's La Lapidation De St. Etienne shares certain parallels with Michael Haneke’s film Love [trailer, film focus] (2012) with its unflinching and resolutely unsentimental examination of Etienne, an old man living out his final days in a squalid flat.
His only family are his daughter, the thoroughly unlikable Jeanne, who wants her father out of the flat and out of her way, and his brother, who tries to find gentler ways of persuading him to join him in a nursing home. But the spectres of the past loom large for Etienne, as he stubbornly refuses to move from the place in which he still feels the presence of his deceased daughter. As Etienne further withdraws from the world – despite his neighbour’s increasingly angry pleas for him to leave – his health worsens, as does the squalor. But even in the depths of humiliation and pain, Etienne refuses help from anyone.
The beginnings of Pera Vila I Barcelo’s film come across as rather stagey, with Etienne and his brother exchanging large swathes of dialogue inside the flat. Given that almost the entire film is set within the flat, the theatrical nature of proceedings is hard to escape. Some of the attempts to break out of these confines - the occasional burst of a classical score or a dream sequence – seem somewhat forced and insistent. But Lou Castel is excellent in the lead role, earning both sympathy and enmity at the sametime. Is multi-layered and measured performance is perhaps the best thing here and – ultimately – makes the film worthwhile.
It’s certainly a festival film, but its dour nature and harsh message would mean that distribution will be harder to come by. But, despite its flaws, Barcelo is clearly a talented director and Castel – a former pin-up of Italian cinema – gives a performance to remember.