August 31, 2009

Ecoute Le Temps

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Imagine a police-procedural in which the investigator, possessed with an (unknown to her) sixth sense, captures very odd things on a tape recorder, and you’ll have some idea of the unusual French "mystery" Ecoute Le Temps (which means literally, Listen to Time, though the English translation is the more marquee-ready but less meaningful Fissures). While the character mentioned above might sound like Patricia Arquette on TV’s Medium, this is a small-budget French film, after all, so there’s more grit and less gloss to the proceedings. (The cinematography, by Dominique Colin (L'auberge Espagnole, Russian Dolls), is wonderful, however: wide, well-composed vistas that are often as both bleak as they are beautiful.)

Actually, our heroine is not even a cop; she just acts like one. Charlotte – played by the fine actress Émilie Dequenne (the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta, and André Téchiné’s new Girl on the Train) – is a sound technician for documentary films, and so her job fits in well with her sudden abilities regarding tape recordings, voices and the netherworld. On vacation and visiting her mom in a small provincial town around the time that the central event happens, she discovers a proclivity that runs in the family. Because the event hits her so personally, she begins her own investigation that takes in friends, neighbors, and townspeople – from the Mayor and Chief of Police downwards to the parents of a missing child, an organic farmer and the retarded boy-next-door.

The dialog is nicely glancing, giving hints without whomping us, and the performances are all of a piece. The actors do much with little screen time, and writer/director Alanté Kavaïté, whose first film this is, manages easily to hold our interest without indulging in too many of the typical clichés. Most interesting is how Ms. Kavaïté has her leading character come up with a concrete "shape" to provide a timeline for the conversations she has been hearing. I don’t know that viewers will be able to quite explain the ins-and-outs of this spider-web creation but the writer/director drops enough small details to keep us hooked. I particularly appreciated the lack of the usual last-minute histrionics that often goose-up the finale of the thriller genre. Instead, Kavaïté, who has nicely lain out her suspects, brings the film to a quiet close that should have you appreciating not so much the destination as the journey itself.

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Posted by cphillips at August 31, 2009 1:58 PM
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