TIFF 2011: ‘Carré Blanc’ showcases directorial flair, if not originality
Directed by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti
Written by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti
Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s Carre Blanc marks the arrival of someone who promises to be an emerging new talent in genre filmmaking in France. With that said, his directorial debut comes off as a somewhat jejune undergraduate rhetoric about consumerism and corporate supremacy. Leonetti shows confidence in his direction, a marriage of French cuisine with a Russian setting, but the film adds nothing new to the genre. Influences appear to range from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, Orwell, Kafka and most clearly Tarkovsky, but when asked at the Q&A what his major inspiration was, Leonetti shrugged away the names mentioned above, and instead cited George Lucas’s THX-1138 as his prime source of guidance. Ask him about the politics and Leonetti will reply, “this is not a political film, I have no solutions, no answer, this is simply a love story.”
Carre Blanc is a mild success, based solely on his distinctive aesthetic. Leonetti crafts his film with precision, creating an unsettling atmosphere amidst some of the most beautiful architecture and locations from several major cities across the globe. Cinematographer David Nissen sets the action amid the desolate modernist exteriors, captured in Kubrickian wide shots, dollys and zooms. One has to admire the excellent compositions, little if any special effects, beautifully rendered pale colour palette and the sinister sound design by Edgar Vidal. But despite the stylish production values, the film lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.
Set in an alternate future, the population of the world in Carré is steadily declining for reasons unexplained. An ever-present droning intercom acts as a constant reminder of of the fast drop in population, while encouraging people to procreate and/or play croquet (don’t ask). After the suicide of his mother, a young boy is sent to a state-run boarding school where he grows up into a “model citizen” and raised to be an employee of a nameless mega-corporation, a totalitarian force. Philippe is trained to hold down a job which consists of humiliating and torturing other employees through a series of bizarre performance tests. Meanwhile, his estranged wife, Marie, whom he met at the academy, spends her days wandering the city lifeless. The couple slowly become aliened with both themselves and society around them, and try desperately to find ways to reconnect. This is a stark and grim world where people look and act the same, where all they do is work, where everyone lives in fear and where any sort of freedom is absolute. Any act of disobedience, small or large is answered with punishment, usually by death. Women are treated docile, roaming around the city contemplating suicide, while men are raised to seek dominance through violence, and death.
Carré’s narrative is driven without dialogue, so much so that Leonetti could have opted for a silent-feature treatment if he wanted. Clocking in at less than 80 minutes, this disjointed portrait of a mad, mad world is a solid directorial debut even if its dystopic themes feel borrowed. There is a sense of dread and unease that comes through in every scene, and we’re never sure what will happen next, but we expect it will be something bad. I have reservations about the overpowering message about the importance of free will and individuality, but they are outweighed by my admiration for the technical virtuosity on display. Leonetti isn’t working on new ground; totalitarian ideas and ideals presented in the genre has been done time and time again, but Carré Blanc is certainly worth a look, if only for its atmosphere and, well, its look.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to the 18th. Tickets, schedules, and other information can be found on the festival’s website.