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Thread: New Directors/New Films 2016; Film Comments Selects

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    EVOLUTION/ÉVOLUTION (Lucile Hadžihalilović 2015)

    LUCILE HADŽIHALILOVIĆ: EVOLUTION/ÉVOLUTION (2015)


    MAX BRABANT IN EVOLUTION

    Boys, water, and women

    Her name is a nightmare to spell, though a non-accented version is also accepted and seems preferred by French Wikipedia, Hadzihalilovic. She won admiration from cinephiles for her exquisitely arcane, disturbing 2004 feature, Innocence. She's taken a long time to get around to another feature, but in 2009 she collaborated with spouse Gaspar Noë on his Enter the Void. Her debut was the 52-minute 1996 film La bouche de Jean-Pierre , in Un Certain Regard at Cannes -- not reviewed on AlloCiné, but viewers' comments on it there are favorable.

    Anyway, Evolution is her second strange take on childhood and sexual development, and while the first focused exclusively on young girls, in this one it's young boys being giving creepy raising/treatment by women, who may or may not be their moms. Innocence was the (by report ) faithful adaptation of a boarding school-set novella by Frank Wedekind (the German 1880's author of Spring Awakening), this one is all hers. It focuses on the experiences of 11-year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant, a good swimmer who glows with health), a boy who wonders if he is sick and why strange things are happening to the other boys, notably their being sent to a hospital for mysterious treatments.

    Like its predecessor an elaborately staged and beautifully photographed film with everyone in coordinated costumes, like a ballet, Evolution is a kind of Jungian science fiction of reversed sexual roles and amphibious birth. It all happens in a little town of primitive white houses by a rocky coast where the sear roars up onto volcanic-looking surfaces. (The scenes were shot at Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands.) It is populated only by women and boys, both of whom often return to the sea and swim, and there are constant references to red starfish. Nicolas is swimming underwater in the first human scene (before that we see a glorious wide under-waterscape of flowing seaweed and coral, all the cinematography by Manu Dacosse, who shot The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears), and tells his mother he has seen a dead boy under water with a starfish on his belly. She says he's wrong.

    Nicolas and the other boys are given dark liquid medicine every day, fed a diet of what looks like seaweed mixed with white worms, and given injections. Eventually it develops that roles are reversed, and they, instead of the women, are to have babies. What they give birth to we don't know, but it may be small fetuses, amphibious, perhaps? Nicolas draws -- though why this is important, we don't know -- and is increasingly disgusted and uneasy, as are we.

    There is material for a hundred film student theses here, but nothing a viewer can come away with. This, like Innocence, is nothing more than an exquisite art film for a cult audience that will leave more mainstream audiences puzzled and indifferent if not actively repelled. I did not expect to like it, and I did not, though I was impressed by the beauty and distinctiveness of the images.

    I don't think Hadzihalilovic knows how to tell a story, or is going to learn. And that's a shame, because she comes so close. She makes beautiful films. But they are stifling and airless. Their festival and cinephile cult potential is bright, their theatrical release future, relatively dim. In his excellent Variety review Peter Debruge classifies Evolution as a "yet another stunning, squirm-inducing contribution to the New French Extremity movement, as practiced by her husband Gaspar Noë and others."

    Evolution/Évolution, 81 mins., debuted at Toronto. Many international festival showings, including Fantastic Fest, London, San Sebastian (Special Jury Prize and Best Cinematography), and Dublin (Best Director). Screened for this review as part of the 2016 New Directors/New Films series at Lincoln Center and MoMA, New York. Scheduled for theatrical release in France 16 Mar. 2016.

    Opening theatrically 25 Nov. 2016 in the US at the IFC Center, Film Society of Lincoln Center (NYC) and on VOD.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-03-2016 at 05:20 PM.

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