Some directors don't need many films to establish a name for themselves. In the past 10 years Grandrieux only made three films, this proved more than sufficient to get his name grounded amongst fans of experimental cinema. For ease of categorization he's often grouped with the likes of Noé (Enter The Void) and Laugier (Martyrs), but apart from a grim and unrelenting style there aren't too many common elements. Time to get acquainted with Grandrieux' latest film, Un Lac.
You don't just sit down to watch a Grandrieux flick. His films lack positivism, appear bleak and hopeless and require quite a lot from their audience. When I first watched La Vie Nouvelle the film had a pretty strong grip on my mood afterwards, Un Lac is no different. Don't consider this a quick filler flick or you will completely lose yourself in the film's inaccessible exterior. You'd better make sure you're ready for the things Grandrieux has prepared for you.
Even though Un Lac is a grim, unpleasant film there isn't anything in the way of shock here. The mood is fully established by means of audio and visuals alone. The story is slim and lies purposely hidden away on the back-shelves of the film's priorities. There is no rape, crime, death or other shocking material here, just a small tragedy surrounding 6 people living in a locked away cabin near an unnamed lake.
The film focuses on Alexi, who lives with his sister and both parents inside in the cabin. The boy shows a little more than simple brotherly love towards his sister, but she doesn't seem too keen on giving in to it. When an outsider comes along (to cut wood in a nearby forest) this intrusion turns the world of the cabin inhabitants upside down, causing a tiny yet powerful drama.
Grandrieux shot the film himself, picking up a handycam and moving it so close to his main characters that the world becomes almost completely eclipsed by them. The little story there is can be a little hard to decipher simply because many scenes are either pitch dark or are registered through a shaky camera that only shows us a small part of what is going on. It's a very striking way to handle the camera that will alienate a lot of people (a little like Merhige's Begotten) but actually aids in keeping your thoughts with the film. If you plan on following what's going on, you'd better pay attention to construct the reality from the little details you are fed.
The soundtrack is a real piece of art. Not much in the way of actual music, though many scenes are set to an impressive selection of soundscapes. Aided by singled-out and distorted sound effects this score creates a very eery and dark atmosphere that flourishes when coupled to the grim and desaturated cinematography. A prime example of audio and visuals working together to create a bigger whole.
The quality of acting is a little hard to judge since you hardly ever see characters in full. There are few dialogues and the ones that are there are strictly functional. The actors do fill their part, but they remain little more than shadows and contours referencing character types rather than actual individuals. If you were hoping on large personal and emotional bondings, set your expectations straight.
It's a popular claim that a movie's story line fits on a single napkin, in this case I think that might actually be the case. Though the story is never fed in any direct way and the overload of unfocused close-ups make it hard to piece all the elements together, the actual story remains very singular and easy to follow. So if it's a good, fleshed-out story line you're after, just don't even bother with this film because you won't find much here.
Greatest selling points are the film's doom-like atmosphere, its luscious setting and the seamless audiovisual experience it delivers. The film is quite abstract and emotions are often translated by shaky, blurred shots of lakes, mountains and mist, but once (and if) you get through the film's rough skin a refreshingly strong cinematic world opens itself. For that reason alone it's worth a try.
Grandrieux is an acquired taste. Un Lac might not be the best film to start exploring his oeuvre, though it's definitely the least shocking one (mind that I still need to watch Sombre so I just go on general comments here). If you're looking for something bleak and different, not grounded in narrative cinema then this is definitely one to check out. Some scenes are simply too dark and the dialogue is a little too functional and stilted at times, but overall this film dazzles. Beware when approaching though, this film comes with a big warning sign.