Maelström

Synopsis: A fish tells the story of 25-year-old Bibiane Champagne (Marie-Josée Croze) who accidentally hits a man while driving one fateful summer night. The 53-year-old victim is a fisherman who is left on the highway and returns home to slowly die. Plagued by guilt and in order to erase all clues, Bibiane sinks her car into the river. Surviving the ordeal, she is given a second chance as she emerges from the water and must finally come to terms with her life. This is a story about life and death, the earth and the sea, and how a young woman who was lost found her destiny.

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Maelström 8.5

I love the feeling I get when I’ve seen a truly remarkable film. It’s like nothing else; it’s like my mind just awakened and said “woah!”. jumping0050 Free Emoticons   Jumping Sure, I can be entertained by a large number of films, sometimes irrespective of quality, but rare are those times when I’m either absolutely impressed or left breathless. Every year, I end up with maybe 2 or 3 of those out of dozens (if not hundreds!) of viewings.

But ‘Maelström’ belongs in that rare category. There’s no denying it. happy0021 Free Emoticons   Happy

I had seen it before, many years ago, and it left a definite impression on me. It had been so long, however, that I couldn’t really remember what it was about when I sat down to watch it, yesterday. It was almost like rediscovering it, except that I was confident going in that the film was a safe bet, I knew ahead of time that it would be a winner (Hey, once in a while, I think I’m entitled to a sure-fire hit, don’t you think? winking0002 Free Emoticons   Winking).

‘Maelström’ is a film about the meaning of life. And death. Not in a Pythonesque way, obviously, but in that it dares to question the meaning that we attach to life. And death. It’s about what it takes for us to get up in the morning, for us to get through the day, to make it through a complete existence. And what it’s worth in the end. To ourselves. To everyone. To life itself.

The film begins with a foreshadowing statement along the lines of: To make love we had to turn hate inside out.

I haven’t yet wrapped my mind around it in the context of the film, aside from the fact that it’s related to the ending (I won’t spoil it, I promise! winking0002 Free Emoticons   Winking). But I don’t know how it relates to the main character’s plight, to her desperate struggle for self-fulfillment. I also don’t know how it relates to the other characters, because there is very little hate (or love, for that matter!) aside from some repressed self-loathing.

If ‘Maelström’ is about anything at all, however, on the surface it is a story of redemption.

Our film begins with an fetal abortion, followed by the abortion of our main character’s livelihood, then the abortion of a old fish packer’s life. It’s about how our character has to hit rock bottom in her love life, personal life and professional life before coming back up; she has to be driven to the wall before she chooses to live, to live better, and to take responsibility for her actions and for herself.

The film is filled to the brim with genuinely affecting human emotion, thanks in no small part to natural and powerhouse performances by the cast.

Marie-Josée Croze is fantastic as Bibiane: she has created a character of palpable “flesh and blood”. love0010 Free Emoticons   Love She is completely credible even if she doesn’t necessarily come off as likeable. There is a lot of emotional pain emanating from Bibiane, some of it buried very deep; she has lost her way and doesn’t know -and may never have known- how to be happy. sad0038 Free Sad Emoticons She goes through the motions, distracting herself with minor thrills in lieu of true bliss, but she only feels like a shell.

Jean-Nicolas Verreault, while billed next to Croze, only shows up 2/3 of the way in. He usually annoys me. I can only describe his style as that of a more sober, Francophone Steve Guttenberg. sick0002 Free Sick Emoticons There’s just something about his performances that reeks artificiality and it invariably bothers me; it taints whatever he’s in. However, he was quite good in ‘Maelström’: he brought a gravitas and purity to his performance that I could actually stand to see more often. happy0027 Free Emoticons   Happy

Most of the rest of the cast have smaller parts to play, but all are very good. I can’t say that anyone struck me as miscast or even mildly off-putting; at the very least, we got solid performances from them all, if not top-notch ones. One of my favourite parts is a minor character who provides advice to each of our two leads at different points in the film; the guy has only ninety seconds of screen time in total, but his hilarious attitude punctuated the film. It’s not the best performance, but the character is a standout. happy0021 Free Emoticons   Happy

Because, despite its harrowing side, ‘Maelström’ is a darkly funny film (I suppose it could be considered a sort of gallows humour, in that a lot of the laughs springs from seemingly grave situations). The film is quite literally peppered with laugh-out-loud moments that speak about the absurdity of life and human nature. happy0018 Free Emoticons   Happy How the director managed to balance these elements almost needs to be examined, because he only strengthened the film in the process – no small feat. love0010 Free Emoticons   Love

There is also a poetic quality to this film. Of course, as with most poetry, I recognize it even if I can’t properly decipher it. winking0002 Free Emoticons   Winking There were lots of inserts of water, presumably the open seas, for one. And our story was bookended, and sometimes interrupted, by a talking fish. Yes, a talking fish (at the abattoir, no less!). It added an element of fantasy to the proceedings that I thought was rather appropriate. happy0027 Free Emoticons   Happy

‘Maelström’ was accompanied by an unusual soundtrack that might be reminiscent of the David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With me’. It was, overall, a very rich, diverse soundtrack that I found quite yummy contextually, though I probably wouldn’t listen to much of that music at other occasions; it fit the film perfectly, gave it an otherwordly quality that supported its more abstract side. happy0024 Free Emoticons   Happy

On a more earthly level, I was genuinely impressed by the fact that the people looked so real, so imperfect but nonetheless beautiful. love0010 Free Emoticons   Love I guess I’m just so used to Hollywood films that I’ve forgotten that there’s an other way of doing things. And thank goodness for that. As well, there’s actually quite a fair bit of nudity (all things considered), but it never felt gratuitous; it also seemed completely at home with the tale. It’s funny how many films I’ve seen with substantially less flesh that feel exploitative. Not so here. happy0027 Free Emoticons   Happy

‘Maelström’ is an exemplary human drama. If more of them were made with similar skill, talent and originality I think we would all the richer for it. There’s not much more I can say other than “see it”. And if you don’t get it the first time around, give it another try later. Surely you’ll get something out of it eventually. And it’s well worth the time, believe me. happy0021 Free Emoticons   Happy

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