Bad Seeds: the trap
by Fabien Lemercier
14/08/2012 - Since The Giraffe’s Neck, Safy Nebbou has been blazing a rather original trail in French cinema, half-way between commercial and auteur films, as in Angel of Mine [trailer] and The Other Dumas [trailer] (special screening in Berlin in 2010). In Bad Seeds (Comme un homme), to be released in France on August 15 by its producer Diaphana, the director this time has adapted L’âge bête, a detective novel by the famous Boileau-Narcejac writer duo, whose work has in the past inspired several other films including Clouzot’s The Devils and Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The result, a cross between a thriller and a psychological study on teenage instability, father-son ties, and mourning, is quite interesting.
Everything starts full throttle with an abduction in the middle of the night, and a long journey by car, foot, and boat through worrying natural surroundings (heavy rain, a forest…). The victim whimpers, shaken and petrified by two masked, mute silhouettes who end up locking him or her up in an isolated cabin on the Poitou marshland. Who are the kidnappers? What are their motives? The first line ("See you tomorrow after class”) soon provides the beginning of an explanation. These are two teenagers. The first, Greg (Kevin Azaïs - photo), a car mechanic’s son about to be expelled from school for having threatened a female teacher with a pair of scissors, is getting his own back on her (Sarah Stern). The second, Louis (Emile Berling), the headmaster’s only son, is supporting him out of friendship, but also unconsciously to fill the void of an absent mother, who died in an accident several years earlier, and the subsequent lack of communication with his father (Charles Berling) at home. After two days, Greg accepts to set the woman free, but then he has a very bad car accident. Now Louis is the sole bearer of a terrible secret. What should he do? Set the young woman free? Confess it all to his father? Overwhelmed by his pent-up emotions, the teenager is soon playing a confused, dangerous double game that he does not master.
Skillfully filmed in a very cinematographic, wild natural setting, that stands out in stark contrast to the film’s other cold, narrow interiors (Louis’ home, school, hospital), Bad Seeds portrays a teenager who appears to be trapped by fate. Suspense is agilely maintained throughout the film, despite a few improbable details in the plot (a handgun suddenly turns up, for example). Safy Nebbou reduces the victim’s character to a few minimalistic but very physical scenes, and instead chooses to focus on an impenetrable main character (brilliantly performed by Emile Berling) on an unequipped psychoanalytical quest for catharsis. The film approaches this dimension of the story cautiously, under cover of a film noir, although the latter perhaps lacks the touch of viciousness that usually spices up the genre. Safy Nebbou has not yet totally delved into this dark side, but it awaits him, as his talent as a director is clearly now ready for the experience.
(Translated from French)