Friday, October 29, 2004

"Who Killed Bambi?"

Qui a tué Bambi?



Cast: Sophie Quinton, Laurent Lucas, Catherine Jacob, Yasmine Belmadi, Michèle Moretti, Valérie Donzelli, Jean-Claude Jay, Aladin Reibel, Thierry Bosc, Lucia Sanchez, Fily Keita and Sophie Medina
Directed by: Gilles Marchand
Screenplay by:
Vincent Dietschy and Gilles Marchand

A French thriller where, unlike your mass-produced Chinese schtick, no one has any convenient supernatural powers. The action is in the dialogue.

Isabelle (Sophie Quinton) is a nursing student at a prestigious hospital whose curriculum includes advice on how to tell families their loved ones have croaked (“gone” and “left us” isn’t quite straight to the point). It’s there that she meets the sexy but sinister Dr. Philippe (Laurent Lucas), who starts calling her "Bambi" because she has problems keeping her balance (due to a malformation in her right ear, for which an operation is performed). Isabelle comes to believe that he may be drugging and molesting female patients while they sleep and watering down the hospital’s Pentothal supply and letting nurses take the rap when patients wake up during surgery.

Beautiful direction from a scenarist or a botched first attempt?
Botched First Attempt
Is Marchand's first attempt to direct in a feature film debut is all too obviously amateurist? The 126 minutes' worth of fainting scenes, dream sequences, and face-offs between heroine-villain could smack of wet-behind-the-ears directorial effort. Perhaps Marchand has
failed to infuse the proceedings with a depth or originality. The arrogant Dr. Philippe is such an obvious bad guy from the start that little suspense is generated. Even more damagingly, his villainy, as personified by Lucas' one-dimensional performance, is tedious. The other characters are even less interesting. Too often Marchand, clearly eager to impress and with a Dummies' Guide to Thriller Films firmly in hand, tries to ratchet up the suspense with the usual tricks of sudden noises or appearances, to little avail. Its only suspense lying in the gradually revealed nastiness of the director himself in his peculiar violations of genre logic. Ultimately, the most original aspect of "Who Killed Bambi?" is its provocative title.

Beautiful direction from a scenarist
Alternatively, the film, which debuted at least year’s Festival de Cannes, can be a strong examination of the minimalist practice of filmmaking, adeptly applying less as more. (Less pretense, less ego, less razzle-dazzle, less clutter, but more suspense, more straight-faced and surefootedness.) Pristine visuals (the superb widescreen cinematography is by Pierre Milon), and slick in its presentation, a sterile, antiseptic atmosphere (lots of white on white), appropriate to the hospital environment, Marchand manipulates with great effect the path mystery is to take. Marchand's tactic is to make the film so barren in its minimalism as to remove all signs of suspense. The direction of his own material is rewarding in that as slowly as the expectancy in events are to rise, his use of flirting and seducing certain elements only to temporarily pause their impetus, have a greater effect later when the motion has been reactivated. Bambi’s heroine is Isabelle, naïve but plucky; anesthesia she administers has been tampered with, diluted. The doctor who is secretly siphoning the liquid drug is using it to induce sleep on patients and molest them post-operatively. His motives, not his identity, are the mystery, or the cause for suspense, initially. And once Isabelle, whom he dubs Bambi (after all, Quinton is doe-eyed and deer-like), is given probable cause for suspicion, despite the meager steely warmth the doctor emits to her, when he begins to investigate an ear ailment she has just begun to suffer from, it warrants both hers and our skepticism in his sincerity.
By having Philippe commit his transgressions off screen, however, Marchand in essence questions the reality of the man’s culpability and everyone’s emotional connection to those crimes. Yet for all the soft-footing and awareness in dealing with the tension, Marchand still capably gets the pulse-rate to accelerate through the doubt of conviction in the story’s rejection to be certain of its actions at each and every moment. But our doubt may be solidified insofar as we have witnessed the doctor’s drug-lifting and patient molestation. Yet, the protagonist must get to that level herself. One of the advantages, or unexpected positions Marchand takes, is not to employ Isabelle as a full-fledged sleuth. Only once the implication is without a doubt in her mind does she try to take things into her own hands; the film isn’t as interested by the search for the truth, it’s interested in her journey into confusion — confusion of her condition, reservations about her profession, discomfort and betrayal of an expected honorable figure. And at all times, Marchand is cool-headed and relaxant in his control of the film as a production, with its anesthetic lull — a preferable restraint at which to watch this unfold — as well as his control of generating tension that seeps under your skin. The grounded performance of Quinton makes her someone to keep an eye on, and Lucas’ villainy is always kept to a realistic size, rejecting the notion to blow it up to movie monster size, which is no less appreciated.

It’s obvious from the start that Marchand is using the death of Bambi’s mother as a point of departure for a study on postmodern violence in cinema. But while Marchand seems to have studied Disney’s Bambi, incorporating notions of responsibility, submission, and loneliness associated with the death of the deer’s mother into Philippe’s agenda against Isabelle and women in general, in the end his film feels like an abstract dissertation with no real discernable point, perhaps because Dr. Phil—not unlike the gunman who shoots Bambi’s mom—remains a cipher throughout.

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