Thursday, April 16, 2009

ON DVD: VINYAN

Fabrice Du Welz's Vinyan is a very welcome shift away from the dunce cap depravity he pushed through the art house-horror circles with Calvaire, a stupid film as stupid as House of 1000 Corpses that won illegitimate praise because it was shot by the adept Benoît Debie and had a cast of French speaking actors. Du Welz is Belgian and so are his films, but Calvaire clearly rode the early aught tide of French horror created by the unfortunate success of Haute Tension. Like the rest of that French nu-wave, Calvaire's sole goal was to out marquee the sadism of the notorious film that preceded it. (Calvaire raised Haute Tensions skull-fu*king with some pig fu*king, but then Sheitan trumped them both with some canine hand jobbing!)

Ahh... but as Du Welz has apparently moved on, so shall I. Vinyan's time frame is six months after the six figure death toll tsunami that devastated Indonesia and neighboring countries in 2004. The imagery starts devastatingly enough as we get a long take of air bubbles under dark waters. It's an image we instinctively and ordinarily associate with sodas or champagne, but as distorted screams and red light (and possibly strands of hair) slowly mix into the frame, we feel helplessly bumped out of our comforting frame of reference. From here, we're quickly introduced to Jeanne (Emmanuelle Béart) and Paul (Rufus Sewell), a European couple whose son has either drowned or been kidnapped during the tsunami hysteria that coalesced while they were vacationing in Phuket.

While watching some raw video footage, Jeanne thinks she sees their son and is spun off into an obsessive familial finding mission with odds of success that are right up there with cliches about needles and grains of sand. Vinyan takes the not-without-my-daughter (son, in this instance) storyline and extends the stubbornness far out into the far-est desolate islands off the Burmese coast. Playing off the ghost-river imagery of Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Apocalypse Now, Du Welz not only paints a world without borders, but a region completely off the edge of existence.

The further up the coast the searchers go, the dimmer the reflection of the modern life becomes. The islands appear to be inhabited by boys, and boys only. Boys of the pre-teen variety. Boys around the age of Jeanne and Paul's son. All of these boys appear to be healthy, vibrant, and content and it's inexplicable why they would be, but Du Welz makes it work by slowly unraveling the feeling that whether Paul and Jeanne are in some dreamy third world beyond that fourth wall or not, they're already too far gone to ever come back.

Ultimately, Vinyan is a horror film crafted around the dynamics of a marriage in the face of losing a child. The film begins with distorted screams, but over its end credits there is the sound of laughing children. A careful listen reveals, what sounds like, the laughter of Jeanne alongside them. Taking in this audio right after taking in the evocative image that closes out Vinyan, you're left with an odd mix of maternal relief and creeping kiddie doom. Whether that's what Du Welz was aiming for or not, I don't know, but it's an impression I'd rather leave with than one of more backwoods gang raping.

5 comments:

bill r. said...

Well, you may remember that I kinda liked Calvaire. Kinda. It was unusual enough to keep me interested, at least. But otherwise I've been with you 100 % on modern French horror, so I'm glad to hear good things about Vinyan. I noticed this on IMDB a while ago, and then promptly forgot about it. I may try and rent it this weekend.

Slayton said...

Beart got excellent reviews for this - is it worth watching for her? I'm not too interested in the subject matter but I'm always willing to stock up on 2000s films that showcase good lead actress performances.

Fox said...

Bill-

If you don't write it up, let me know what you think. Also, the cover is one of those unfortunate DVD covers that doesn't reflect what the movie is like. It's really lame... at least the one at OUR video store was.

Slayton-

Beart was good. So was Sewell. I wouldn't say either one of them were knock-out performances, but I liked what both of them did.

The movie has one of those endings that makes you think back on how the actors handled certain scenes, and I will admit that I kinda question some of Du Welz's directing of Sewell after it was over.

bill r. said...

I bought this, by the way. I just picked up a used copy over the weekend, because I figured, what the hell. Haven't watched it, though.

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