7 Days (2009) dir. Daniel Grou
Starring: Claude Legault, Remy Gerard, Martin Dubreuil, Fanny Mallette
By Alan Bacchus
On a level of visceral nastiness Grou delves deep into the darkest emotions and examines the effect of the absolute worst kind of violence man can commit against fellow man. Based on the plot synopsis, and the Midnight Madness program in which the film plays, one might think the film as a revenge genre picture. For good and bad, 7 Days is a concerted effort to provoke and shock without any mainstream allusions - the Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke tradition of visceral uncompromising physical and psychological torture.
In the opening sequence the absolutely most horrific event happens to the Hamels, Bruno and Sylvie (Legault and Mallette), a well-off upper middle class Montreal couple. After a brief domestic spat with their young 9 year old daughter, they get the news that she has been abducted from school, raped and murdered - an opening reminiscent of Antichrist, a horrific death due to the irresponsibility of the parents.
While Von Trier choreographed a stylish and lyrical sequence out of this painful event, Grou dramatizes it as dispassionate matter of fact. When Bruno goes to the site of the murder Grou puts his camera into a series uncompromising close-ups of the murdered body.
When the murderer is caught this sparks Claude’s grisly journey for revenge. Grou observes Claude’s cold and calculated step by step procedure to set up his plot. As a doctor Claude is able to remove the emotion of his actions and execute his plan like a clinical procedure. And so we get to watch, over the course of seven days, some of the most ungodly torture ever committed to the big screen. Stripped naked Claude smashes his knee, whips him with chains, and performs surgical operations to produce the most painful experiences while keeping him conscious and alive.
If the point of the graphic images were to shock us into a state of depression Grou has succeeded. But if the film were solely this relentless assault of pain, I would have left the theatre. The heart of the film emerges in the parallel story of Herve Mercure (played by the wonderful Remy Girard), the police detective, who is also suffering the loss of a loved one, his wife murdered in a petty theft convenience store robbery. Herve’s investigation is constructed like a classic cat and mouse procedural pursuit, with the detective passionately seeking to save Claude from permanently destroying his life in the name of revenge.
Grou’s tone echoes the quiet precision of David’s Fincher’s most dispassionate films. A cinematic formalism, simple and subtle camera moves continually draw the audience into Claude’s dark and damage psyche. But ‘7 Days’ actually fits into a larger prevailing movement of observational realism by a new wave of young Quebec filmmakers - Stephane Lafleur, Raphael Ouellet, Denis Cote and Maxime Giroux, and Yves Christian Fournier. All of these filmmakers and their films using a similar tone of detached realism to convey dark unspoken psychological emotions.
While this attention to detail in style and tone is admirable, Grou’s obsessed need to go where no director has gone before overshadows the film’s strength, the core character relationships between Claude and Herve - a missed opportunity bypassed in favour of cinematic cynicism.