Saturday, 17 September 2011
TIFF 2011 - Carré blanc
Carré blanc (2011) dir. Jean-Baptiste Léonetti
Starring: Sami Bouajila, Julie Gayet
By Greg Klymkiw
Those who cling to wealth and power by forcing conformity, stifling creativity and crushing the very essence of humanity are the faceless dominant evil that exploits the most vulnerable aspect of what it means to be human. It is ultimately our spirit which is, in fact, not as indomitable as we'd all like to believe. Through indoctrination and constant scrutiny we are reduced to lumps of clay. We are moulded in the image our true rulers want to see. They want us tied to the consumption they control. Call them what you like, but they are indeed The New World Order.
And, they are winning.
And, worst of all, the loser is love.
And, without love, we all become prey.
Harkening back to great 70s science-fiction film classics like The Terminal Man, Colossus: The Forbin Project, A Boy and His Dog, Silent Running and THX 1138 - when the genre was thankfully bereft of light sabres, Wookies and Jabba the Hut - when it was actually ABOUT something, Jean-Baptiste Léonetti's debut feature film Carré blanc is easily the finest dystopian vision of the future to be etched upon celluloid since that time.
The future it creates is not all that removed from our current existence.
Léonetti announces himself as a talent to be reckoned with. This low budget science fiction film astounds us with its visual opulence. That, of course, is because it's so obvious that Léonetti has filmmaking hardwired into his DNA. NEVER does the film feel cheap or low budget. Never do we feel like the film has structured itself around all the usual budget-saving techniques that so many other first-time filmmakers unimaginatively opt for. Leonetti has wisely, painstakingly chosen a number of actual exterior and interior locations that fit his vision perfectly and work in tandem with the narrative. His compositions are rich and because his location selection has been so brilliantly judicious, he clearly had the time to properly light and dress the images.
The next time I hear some young filmmaker whining about the "challenges" of their one-set low-budget production I will consider placing them on my list of those who shall feel the wrath of my Baikal semi-automatic Russian assault rifle when civilization collapses and it becomes one giant free-for-all.
Though Carré blanc shares a specific approach from past work to a genre that can - perhaps more than any other, effect true analysis and possibly even change, there is nothing at all retro about the picture - no obvious post-modernist nods here. It is completely unto itself.
Carré blanc is fresh, hip, vibrant and vital.
Blessed also with a deliciously mordant wit, Léonetti delivers a dazzling entertainment for the mind and the senses.
The tale rendered is, on its surface and like many great movies, a simple one. Phillipe (Sami Bouajila) and Marie (Julie Gayet) grew up together in a state orphanage and are now married. They live in a stark, often silent corporate world bereft of any vibrant colour and emotion. Muzak constantly lulls the masses and is only punctuated by announcements occasionally calling for limited procreation and most curiously, promoting the game of croquet - the one and only state sanctioned sport.
Phillipe is a most valued lackey of the state - he is an interrogator-cum-indoctrinator - and he's very good at his job. In fact, with each passing day, he is getting better and better at it. Marie, on the other hand, is withdrawing deeper and deeper into a cocoon as the love she once felt for Phillipe is transforming into indifference. In this world, hatred is a luxury. It's a tangible feeling that the rulers would never tolerate and punish with death.
Indifference, it would seem, is the goal. It ensures complete subservience to the dominant forces. Love, however, is what can ultimately prove to be the force the New World Order is helpless to fight and the core of this story is just that - love. If Phillipe and Marie can somehow rediscover that bond, there might yet be hope - for them, and the world. It is this aspect of the story that always keeps the movie floating above a mere exercise in style.
So many dystopian visions suffer from being overly dour. Happily, Léonetti always manages to break the oppressive force of the film and its world by serving up humour. Most of the laughs in Carré blanc occur within the context of tests delivered by the interrogating indoctrinators. In the world of the film, suicide is often the only way out for those who have a spirit that cannot be crushed. One early scene features Phillipe as a young teen and another boy his age who have both attempted unsuccessfully to kill themselves (by hanging and wrist-slashing respectively).
Both boys are led into an empty room where smiling corporate lackeys speak to them in tones of compassion. They are both asked to engage in a test to cheer them up. Lying before them is a body bag. The test is thus: which one of them will be first to go inside the bag? They hesitate. They're assured how much fun it will be. The other boy dives down immediately and enters the bag.
The lackey zips the boy inside, hands a club to Phillipe and orders him to begin beating the boy within the body bag. Phillipe hesitates. The lackey praises our young protagonist - assuring him he's made the right choice and that anyone who would choose (as Phillipe has not) to go into the body bag is not worthy of life. Phillipe continues to hesitate and the lackey strikes him viciously with a club, ordering him to strike the boy repeatedly. When Phillipe beats the boy in the bag, but halfheartedly, he is again punished by the lackey. Phillipe knows what he has to do now and does so with vigour.
Here we laugh in horror as Phillipe beats the child in the body bag. (I wasn't the only one laughing in the packed house at the film's premiere screening. A few sick puppies belched out appreciative guffaws.)
Narratively, this sequence reveals that Phillipe is clearly an interrogator-in-the-making. The test itself is a perfect way to not immediately "waste" potential "talent" by snuffing them out before seeing what they're really made of. As the film continues to unspool, some of the biggest laughs and equally chilling moments come from the tests Phillipe concocts and metes out to discover those who must be weeded out of society - permanently. Other laughs derive from the odd announcements and pronouncements over the endless loudspeakers.
To Monsieur Léonetti, I offer a tip of the hat for coming up with so many dollops of darkly humorous nastiness throughout the proceedings. They not only offer entertainment value, but are inextricably linked to the world he creates, a world so similar to the one we live in and one which feels just around the corner if humanity does not prevail over the force of a very few.
Love becomes the ultimate goal of Léonetti's narrative and as such, he delivers an instant classic of science fiction. At the end of the day, the best work in this genre IS about individuality and the fight to maintain the indomitability of spirit.
It might, after all, be the only thing we have left.
Carré blanc was unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011) and if there is any hope for both cinema and mankind, it will be released theatrically as soon as humanly possible.