Fantastic Fest 2011: ‘Carré Blanc’ bleak, yet consistently hilarious

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Carré Blanc

Written and directed by Jean-Baptiste Leonettie

2011, France

The world of Carré Blanc is a desolate expanse of concrete housing complexes. A square emblem, representative of a nameless, faceless state entity, is emblazoned everywhere. Loudspeakers stationed at every street corner call out population statistics, urge residents to copulate, and endlessly extol the virtues of the sport of croquet. In an apartment building a woman argues with her son and hastens to defenestrate herself. Her body is quickly taken away and the boy is hustled off to live in a state school where he too tries but fails to commit suicide. Years later, the boy, Phillipe (Sami Bouajila) is the successful and confident hiring manager of an inscrutable business and his wife, Marie (Julie Gayet), walks the empty streets and appears generally unconvinced by the world she’s been indoctrinated into.

Ostensibly a dystopian-future film, Carré Blancis more accurately a minimalist, abstract portrait of modern life. The film strings an astounding collage of image and sound together, but its interest in active narrative is marginal. The film resembles a detailed, perfectly executed diorama in that the characters exist in a rigidly constructed, superficially simple, world and don’t deviate from an understood set of routes and rules. When Marie is seen standing out on her balcony thinking, it is an absolutely jarring expression of autonomy. When a group of business men savagely beat a server for dropping his tray, it is social order.

Though the subject matter is bleak, Carré Blanc is consistently hilarious. The ubiquity the state’s reach, especially in regard to its running loudspeaker commentary, provides much of the film’s dark humor. Writer/director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti has an uncanny ability to push his dystopia to the limits of absurdity without endangering the world’s integrity or pathos. Léonetti’s world should be impenetrable–the film’s construction is certainly unforgiving–but the confidence of execution on display here is remarkable. For a film which such ethereal plotting, Blanc is riveting in construction, and Léonetti deserves all the acclaim he will get for stringing together such an odd, completely original piece.

Upon reflection, the film’s complexity continues to reveal itself. It’s a testament to the kind of film Blanc is that so much of its intricate construction is irrelevant to enjoyment of the film. Léonetti focuses on the relationship between Philippe and Marie and the dichotomy between Phillipe’s troubled past and stagnant, robotic present. For all its intricacy, Blanc’s opening image describes a simple central metaphor: a polar bear, alone in an arctic wilderness, with a carcass hanging from it’s maw. The stark whiteness of the arctic reflects the clean, terrifying nothingness of Léonetti’s future. And what is most troubling, as well as hilarious, about that future is its familiarity.

Emmet Duff

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FantsticFest runs from September 22nd – 29th – visit their official website.

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