Film Review: Le Règne Animal

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Film Review: Le Règne Animal
It’s a cliché that French filmmakers don’t do fantasy very well. Sure, there are the super-stylized films of Besson (Subway), Jeunet and Caro (Delicatessen), and Beneix (Diva), that come close to fantasy, but aren’t the real (that is, invented) thing. That makes it even more surprising that Thomas Caillet’s Le Règne Animal (Animal Kingdom) is one of the best French films of this year, and certainly the most original. If there were ever a French pop movie that deserves international success, this is it, as its story speaks to all of us at this particular moment. The premise is simple, though mysterious. An “accident” has taken place — we’re never told what, exactly. Nuclear radiation leak? Chemical toxin release? Biological contamination from some lab? Part of us wants to know precisely what, but the mystery keeps us wondering, and imagining different scenarios. (Just like with Jordan Peele’s Us.) The accident causes people to become sick: in fact to mutate partly or wholly into animals. There are treatments for the “sickness” but they don’t seem to work well. The unfortunates are referred to as “creatures” by those who sympathize, and by those who don’t as “vermin”. One such creature is Lana, the wife of François, intensely played by Romain Duris. We first meet him and his son Emile (Paul Kircher) when they’re caught in a nightmarish gridlock in the city, something out of Godard’s Weekend. It’s a vision of “civilized” life at its most hellish, and at one moment Emile jumps from the car and runs away through the traffic jam. François gives chase until they both witness a winged creature hunted down by the authorities. We also catch glimpses of other creatures — the movie has echoes of kindred fantasy visions and initially there’s a strong whiff of David Cronenberg. A doctor orders the family to go to a holiday town in the boonies (actually in lovely Gironde, in the south of France) for a month or two. Why isn’t really clear. Apparently there’s a center for detained creatures there. François rents a rustic cottage and gets a job as a cook, but Lana, who’s mutating into a sort of oversized nutria or giant gopher, escapes into the wild, which seems rather idyllic. The putative plot of the film concerns François’ search for his wife in this area infested with creatures. Duris brings the feral electricity of a young Harvey Keitel to the role of the husband-father, and provides much of Le Règne Animal’s energy. He’s also engagingly emotional (a Keitel with heart). But gradually it’s Paul Kircher’s brilliant performance as Emile that gathers power and attracts our interest and concern. The 21-year-old first made his mark in last year’s Le Lycéen, for which he won an award at the Saint-Sébastien film festival and was nominated for a César. Still from Le Règne Animal. Credit: Nord-Ouest Films/ Studio Canal/France 2 Cinema/ Artémis Productions
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Lead photo credit : Photo: Ivan Mathié Nord-Ouest Films Studio Canal France 2 Cinema Artémis Productions

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.