Dominik Moll’s Only The Animals has an uneven but interesting four act structure, the first of which depicts Alice Farange (Laure Calamy) admitting to a Gendarme Cedric Vigier (Bastian Buillon) that she was cheating on her husband Michel (Denis Menochet) with their neighbor Joseph Bonnefille (Damien Bonnard). All of this leads to a car that they find in the middle of a field in winter. That car has connections to a missing woman, Evelyn Ducat (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Evelyn has connections to her lover Marion (Nadia Tereskiewicz). And all of them are dealing with the actions of Armand (Guy Roger ‘Bibisse’ N’drin). He’s a man from Cote’ D’Ivoire doing his best to survive.
I had a strange reaction Only The Animals‘ first act, which basically comprise a fifth of the film’s running time, that reaction being my indifference to its initial missing white woman premise. It eventually delivers on its satisfying levels of weird. For instance, there’s Joseph’s reaction to Evelyn’s disappearance, which viewers have to see to believe. The third act starts strangely enough after the thirty-five minute mar. And it gives as much attention to Marion as it does to Evelyn. That act captures the loneliness that both felt that drew them together.
Other critics have compared this film to the work of the Coen Brothers, Hitchcock, and Kurosawa. The third, by the way, seems like a wild swing in describing a French thriller. But comparisons to early Egoyan feel more apt in that, again, both capture human loneliness. Menochet is the marquee name behind this film but Tereskiewicz’s work as Marion is commendable. She shows what it’s like when a character is alone and behaves in ways they won’t in public. What makes this film unique though is the way it plants Easter eggs. As an example, headlights in an alleyway mean more than they initially seem.
Mysteries have to be intriguing, and it occasionally delivers that intrigue through half measures. Again, the film’s central mystery is not as interesting as it is when it does in its digressive subplots. And when it does go through the weeds it feels like ti gives its characters really obvious flaws. Sure, viewers can chalk those flaws to a lack of literacy towards contemporary issues. But there are times when Michel’s flaw of not knowing scams stretch disbelief. In writing him, Moll and co-writer Gill Marchard’s script does the archetype of the gullible French man. But in fairness, they do it better. There’s a previous example of that that I’ve seen in a festival entry this year that’s much worse.
Another thing that other critics have pointed out is the film’s use of medium and wide shots. I find the reverse, where a lot of it are closeups of characters like Alice, Evelyn, and Michel. If anything, those close-ups of Michel as he stares at his desktop brings something to the film. It brings a sense of intimacy and urgency to the film. Viewers eventually accept these characters for their flaws. And there’s an impression that they have a struggle to resist impulses to only look out for themselves. Instead, they have room to empathize with others, which is, after all, universal.
Only the Animals opens today in Toronto’s Carlton Cinema.