Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Written by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alante Kavaite, Geoff Cox
Produced by Nicolas Villarejo Farkas, Ángeles Hernández, David Matamoros, Julien Naveau, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon, Sebastián Álvarez, John Engel, Genevieve Lemal
Starring Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Marta Blanc, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard
Distant from lush forests where the little ladies of Innocence were secluded, Hadzihalilovic’s eerily, elegantly elliptic second feature probes the seaboard secrets of an austere, insular village. Similarly severe women domiciled there with young boys in their care feed a vermicious stew and administer an inky medicine to their charges, who are subjected to strange experiments in a dank, nearby hospital where they’re eventually committed. One peculiarly inquisitive tad (Brebant) among them discovers another boy’s corpse in the reef of his island’s bight, then witnesses the surrogate mothers’ bizarre, nightly, coastal congress, realizing too late the danger his keepers pose. For its economy, dialogue is essentially effective from the mouths of the directress’s naturalistically convincing cast, and she wisely paces this quiet nightmare elicited from a juvenile trepidity with exquisite deliberation, introducing her setting’s seascapes and landscapes in panoramas, then focusing on swimming and swaying benthos, tenebrious revelations and subtly suggestive gestures that communicate perhaps more than any conversation. As in her debut, water’s here a literally and metaphorically transitional medium, almost so ubiquitous in the umbratile hospital where our protagonist is befriended by a sympathetic nurse (Duran) as on the strand where weltering breakers underscore with Jesús Díaz’s and Zacarías M. de la Riva’s perturbing, poignant music portent and peril. Hadzihalilovic’s superbly stygian, spartan fantasy proposes a societal and interspecific parasitism, and that mercy may not be exclusive to humanity.