by Fabien Lemercier
- Isabelle Prim concocts an original, crafty and clever film that connects and interweaves two distant eras in the midst of a criminal investigation
La Bouffette is a cake "of modest origins" with "a rich history." It consists of two sponge cakes sandwiched together with a sweet cream filling and its recipe remains secret to this day. This particular cake is a speciality of Mens [+see also:
film profile], a small town in the region of Isère in the Alps, which gives its name to the second feature film by the French director Isabelle Prim, screened at the 48th Rotterdam Film Festival, in the Bright Future competition. An original sweet treat that seems to adequately sum up the spirit of a fairly simple film produced with rather minimalist means, but which experiments cleverly with its story by revisiting a 1985 criminal investigation in modern times and blurring our perception of time in a somewhat dreamlike setting.
"A man called Louis Dournon was found murdered 500 metres from Mens. I'm awaiting instructions." After discovering this telegram (addressed to the public prosecutor in Grenoble) in a box belonging to his deceased grandmother, whose house his is sorting through with his mother, 14-year-old Jean (Miljan Châtelain) takes an immediate interest in the family event (the dead man was his great-grandfather) while perusing the documents in the investigation file as he drives home with his mother. A car journey during which he dozes off and finds himself immersed in a dream in Mens back in January 1895, as the very judge who is conducting the investigation. From the murder’s meticulous reconstruction to interrogations of the deceased’s relatives (his wife, his brother, his neighbors, his sister-in-law, his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, nicknamed The Widow, and finally, the number one suspect, who glimpse hitting the victim at the very beginning of the film), the judge, assisted by clerk Rippert (Richard Peyraud), slowly begins to uncover a truth immersed in secrets and local gossip...
"That’s when my dreams began to seep into real life." With the young judge constantly falling asleep and floating about in an environment filled with apparitions and intuitions, the city’s dark alleys and ectoplasmic lighting, dark and stifling interiors and the transcription of oral statements and transcripts read aloud by a clerk, everything starts to overlap as the two eras become superimposed (police officers wear contemporary uniforms, young people whizz about on enduro motorbikes in 1895, photos of the late nineteenth century start to appear on mobile phones, a cross-cut of a black and white scene appears on screen, etc.), Mens’ illustrates its primary objective in various different and inventive ways: "everything aligns perfectly, everything is separate, but everything finally comes together in this small town." The film’s interwoven experiments (based on a screenplay written by the director and Thomas Pujol) are enhanced by the film’s sound and music (by Géry Petit), with a captivating charm that unfolds bit by bit, allowing for the film’s initial theatrical feel to make way for a more subtle story that takes full advantage of its production, such as the few drone shots that serve to anchor the story in the superb setting of Trièves (where Cédric Kahn also filmed The Prayer [+see also:
interview: Cédric Kahn
Mens was produced and is being sold internationally by Ecce Films.
(Translated from French)
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