Coming Home

Coming Home


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

A Moi Seule comes to screens in the trail of years of media revelations of European girls abducted and held for extensive periods, particularly the notorious Fritzl affair and the more similar case of Natascha Kampusch, who was kidnapped and imprisoned in a cellar (both cases having occurred in Austria). A disclaimer at the start of this film claims that the depicted events are fictional but the shadow of these previous cases hangs over the proceedings, adding an unsettling air - especially as these cases have sometimes involved sexual abuse, or worse.

The first scene shows quiet sawmill worker Vincent beating up a colleague, then returning to his secluded rural home. He opens a trap door and makes it clear to 17-year-old Gaëlle (Bonitzer) who emerges, that she’s free to leave. Clearly this is not a normal domestic situation. As Vincent watches, Gaelle, at first hesitantly, runs out. Following Gaelle's newfound freedom, the narrative shows how this scenario came to be through jumps between the flashbacks of the institutionalised young Gaelle, who is put into mental care almost immediately upon her liberation by her distressed mother - who has not seen her for eight years, to her time spent as Vincent's captive. Periodically, the narrative returns to her present condition under the care of her sympathetic psychologist. We see how as a young French schoolgirl Gaëlle was first kidnapped by Vincent and shut away from the world in his domestic prison.

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Hers is a special type of captivity. Vincent's house is not immediately a prison (eerie parallels to the Fritzl case, here). The cellar where Gaelle is secluded is well hidden under a trunk on the dining room floor. Blink and you might miss the wooden barriers than can swing shut to cover the windows. Gaelle is not kept indefinitely in the cellar prison. She seems, especially in later years as she reaches her teens, to be allowed relatively free reign in the house.

Though always close by, Vincent takes her on drives and walks in the forests nearby. He makes clumsy efforts to educate her and provide her with medical care. In one scene he awkwardly brings home a sight test board, though Gaelle acidly points out that her captivity means he will have to buy her men's spectacles and adjust them for her. A power game soon develops Gaelle increasingly harangues Vincent about his poor social status and tears through the veil of domestic tranquility and progression he tries to create for her. What, she points out, is the point of learning punctuation if she will need be able to try it out in the real world?

As for Vincent, he leaves knives and other potential weapons around the house seemingly to entice Gaelle to prove to herself that she does not have the stomach to kill him. He doesn't seem to want sex with her, though one uncomfortable scene where she broaches the issue suggests he wants some kind of love from her. Perhaps it is just a power complex. Perhaps he wants her to give her love freely to him, to declare that she has put aside the bars on the windows and the threats of cellar confinement for "misbehaviour" to see him for the man he believes he truly is - or could be. With seemingly no other social life to occupy him, Vincent seems to want to be part father, part brother, part friend to his increasingly aggressive captive.

Vincent is not psychologically sketched in detail, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what his motivations and psychological issues are. Actor Reda Kateb as Vincent works well enough with what he has though, being particularly good at projecting an air of unnatural affabillity and calm which leaves the audience wondering when it is going to snap.

The air of sexual violence also adds its own weight to the proceedings - it is impossible to watch the film without thinking about it. Though Vincent is not a sexual predator, the potential of the situation gives his character's actions a dangerous edge. Actor Agathe Bonitzer gives an energetic though sometimes one-note performance as the captive Gaelle, who emerges from captivity only to find herself essential a captive again - though this time of both the medical establishment and the neglect of former friends and family who no longer know how to relate to her.

The more interesting scenes show both her awkward encounters with figures from her former life, and her domestic interactions with Vincent, with its bizarre daughter/father/captive dynamic that does not seem to exclude some fondness developing on her part despite everything.

Despite the fine cast, and some striking, color-drained cinematography, A Moi Seule doesn't have enough psychological complexity, interesting characters, surprises, or aesthetic uniqueness to leave quite the impression it promises, beyond being midly unsettling with a slightly unreal atmosphere.

Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2012
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Story of a kidnapped woman and what happens to her after release.

Director: Frédéric Videau

Writer: Frédéric Videau

Starring: Agathe Bonitzer, Reda Kateb, Hélène Fillières, Noémie Lvovsky, Jacques Bonnaffé, Grégory Gadebois, Marie Payen, Margot Couture, Makita Samba, Pascal Cervo, Marie Vialle

Year: 2012

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: France


BIFF 2012

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