Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ils (They) Film Review

Unlike many pompously self-important French films, Ils (They) has a surprisingly sparse script. Full of one-liners like Qu-est-ce que tu fais? (What are you doing) or Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? (Whats the matter) repeated over and over and over, my beginner's French students would love this film. The simplicity of the characters' dialogue pretty much mirrors the simplicity of the production - set in a huge old house in the woods, and the story - two French expats in Romania victimized by an unseen force bent on doing them harm. There are no big budget special effects and only about a couple of ounces of blood shed shown on screen, but this film nevertheless delivers the goods.

Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud opt to make the film look like a documentary. Supposedly "inspired by true events" Ils opens with an especially tense scene of a mother and daughter stranded on the side of a dark, empty road. After almost hitting something or someone, the car swerves wildly and hits a post. Thankfully mother and daughter are unharmed...but only for a few minutes. Mom pops open the hood and checks the engine while Daughter stays in the car. A clicking sound is heard from the woods nearby. And Mom is gone. Daughter gets off the car, calling for her mysteriously disappeared mother. This scene is so scary I couldn't believe there wasn't anything actually happening on screen! Just this girl looking around the car, framed by the dark road/woods calling out "Mama" with some swooshing, clicking sounds in the background. Brilliant.

Spoiler starts here....

I can't say the ending was a total shock to me, halfway through I figured out "they" weren't exactly supernatural. Its a bunch of kids who hunt and kill people for sport, for fun. If this film was actually based on true events then it seems to be go right along a filmmaking trend portraying countries in Central and Eastern Europe as morally bankrupt. Tarantino's The Hostel showed Bratislava, Slovakia to be some run-down city full of abandoned factories where absolutely anything - including the joys of torturing backpackers - can be had for a price.

Rationally, there could be some truth to these stories. The collapse of communism and the dominance of Russia over these countries left a "moral vacuum" of sorts. Communism banned religion, a mechanism to make people "behave." Order was enforced by completely human, secular laws. And so you have roughly two generations of former Soviets who don't have an all-seeing God to censor their actions. Couple this with the kind of poverty this region has had to battle as it adjusts to the rest of the capitalist world, then you've got the perfect social conditions which would render events depicted in these films entirely feasible.

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