Eye For Film >> Movies >> Bonne Année (2008) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Beginning a story at the end can often mortally wound a film. Reveal too much and the audience feels as though they've seen it all and bought the T-shirt before the opening credits have rolled. Praise is due, then, to Alexander Berberich, who slays his two leading men in the opening reel but, in doing so, makes the viewer curious about their lives. As if killing his characters isn't risky enough, Berberich also shoots the film in a series of stylised, long single takes – a restriction he turns into a virtue.
The men in question are two nameless guns for hire - The Driver (Benjamin Banks) and The Passenger (French actor Thibaut Landier), who are partners in crime. But immediately after we meet them and hear their New Year's resolution ("to stop making excuses for ourselves") they find themselves on the wrong end of a bullet.
It is from here that we are taken back in time, to see the course of events that lead to the deaths. Berberich – who developed this, his first feature, from his own earlier short film - is less interested in the large events that happen, the set-up of the hit, the unfortunate outcome, than he is in the minutae of what makes people tick. He shows us the men together and invites us to draw our own conclusions about the nature of their relationship and the flaws in their characters. Landier – the softer of the two – is trying to move his relationship with local bar owner Ellen (Karen Young) up a notch, while Banks is grappling with regret about a daughter he never sees. Tough decisions beckon.
The single-takes allow Berberich to adopt a lyrical approach to events. With no quick cuts, his camera – and by extension, the audience - is able to drink in every drop of the action, as well as the general goings on at the periphery of each scene. He also displays an excellent eye for filling his frame, using the full depth of the field to great effect. So, in one scene we are treated to a conversation between the pair, while the man who hired them – whom we never hear speak - enjoys dinner in a restaurant behind them, while in another we watch events unfold through the window of a car.
The idea of a single-take shot may suggest something static and theatrical, but Berberich's camera glides through scenes, helping the viewer to not only concentrate on what is being said, but also allowing us time to consider these thoughts at a normal pace. By avoiding cuts, we, like the central protagonists, can feel the tick of time as the New Year and their job draws closer.
Single-take scenes allow actors a greater freedom of expression but also add a weight of responsibility, since they know that every breath they take will make it into the final cut. Landier and Banks rise to the challenge superbly, using the extra screen time to good advantage to find nuance in their characters. The only weak note in the acting, comes from Dyanna Lauren, whose theatricality jars with the naturalism of the other actors.
By adopting the constraints he has – the single takes, a fade to black and white at the end of virtually every scene, a circular narrative – there is much that could have gone wrong with the direction and yet, although this is stylised, it is the content that triumphs. While the slow-moving and philosophical nature of the discussion – reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch – will not suit anyone looking for a quick fix of action, those prepared to go with the flow will find much to admire. Make a mental note of Berberich's name, we'll be hearing a lot more from him.