Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

To sustain tension for two-and-a-half hours quietly investigating a rural murder in Northern France is a considerable accomplishment for writer/director Bruno Dumont. What makes it more intriguing is that the protagonist, Pharaon De Winter (Emmanuel Schott), a police superintendent in a small country town, seems mentally on another plain.

Dumont's skill is matched by Schott's performance. You cannot keep your eyes off him. A loner, who lives with his mother, he appears unsuited for detective work, or anything, for that matter.

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His private passion for Domino (Sverine Caneele), the factory girl who lives three doors down, is locked so deep in a dungeon of his consciousness, it becomes debilitated. She appears angry and sensual, forever sunning herself on the step outside, or making violent love to Joseph (Philippe Tullier), her cocky, laddish boyfriend. They indulge Pharaon with trips to the seaside, or the occasional dinner in a pub, where Joseph, more often than not, causes trouble with his big mouth and fast fists.

The crime is terrible. A little girl was raped and killed in a field close to her home. Pharaon says he was the first on the scene, an experience that has traumatised him. And yet throughout the film, you don't know whether this, or anything else, is true and the suspicion remains that he is hiding something, perhaps everything, even the secret to his sad life.

Underlying the search for the paedophile and the strange menage-a-trois is a powerful sexual urge. It is everywhere, in the cold earth, on the dead white skin, in the sweat of a red neck, in the fingertips, on the wind.

This flat ugly country, where farming is as dull as the sky, the air is thick with secret desire, as if the mutilation of a child cries out for recognition. Pharaon suffers the pain of loss and unrequited love. When he thinks of the dead girl, his heart bleeds.

This is a film of extraordinary power.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Investigation into the rape and murder of a little girl in Northern France.
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Director: Bruno Dumont

Writer: Bruno Dumont

Starring: Emmanuel Schott, Sverine Caneele, Philippe Tullier, Ghislain Ghesquiree, Ginette Allegre

Year: 1999

Runtime: 148 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France


EIFF 1999

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