Kristin Scott Thomas is the woman in jeopardy in this unusual suspense movie. It opens with a nervy bravura sequence, dialogue-free and shot hand-held, charting her return home in a highly agitated state. She is days late getting back from a holiday and seems utterly terrified. After an abortive attempt to go back to her job (she works as a OBGYN) she reports her kidnapping to the police. In flashback we see her being taken at knife point from her apartment, bundled into the back of a car and then waking in a locked basement. When the man with the knife bring her food, she claims to have no money and that he must have the wrong person. But he knows exactly who she is and is very, very angry with her …
I offer the following review as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog and you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles that have been selected.
“This is pointless unless you tell me the truth”
From this basic set-up, this film could go in any one of several directions based on past efforts. It could go for the Grand Guignol of Lady in a Cage (1964), the warped romance of The Collector (1966) or the plot and counter-plot of the more recent kidnap thriller, The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009); or even the claustrophobic horror stylings of the first Saw (2004), which for all its torture and gore is really a disguised whodunit in the Giallo tradition. So, will this film (released in France as Contre Toi) be a tale of cat and mouse in which the victim turns the tables on her jailer? A morbid take on the Stockholm Syndrome in which the two main characters end up together? Or something else entirely ..? Well, here’s a hint – if you’ve seem Harold Pinter’s early play The Lover, then you will know that sometimes things are not what they seem, though to be clear this is not a story with a trick ending or a tricksy story with no ending – above all else this is a human drama, one that takes the trappings of the suspense genre and then goes its own sweet way.
Thomas plays a rather sad person, a healer who seems to singularly lack to the human touch without much in the way of friends or family other than a mother who worries constantly and a lover who is available occasionally. After the initial shock of finding herself in a makeshift cell she ultimately comes to the conclusion that her jailer (Pio Marmaï), while angry for something he says she did, isn’t really capable of hurting her – but is now too scared to let the woman go. About a third of the way in (the film is less than 80 minutes long) he tells her his name and before long the relationship has become less hostile – ultimately we learn that he has been grieving and blames her for his loss. After a violent altercation, the balance of power begins to shift and at about the halfway back she begs his forgiveness and embrace. The next morning she finds the door unlocked and flees. We return to the police station, where the cop feels she is holding something back – she gets angry and leaves without making a formal statement. But she is now haunted by the idea that perhaps she is somehow responsible for the man;s grief – and also attracted to the strange but forceful bond that unites them after the kidnapping. So she decides to track him down.
It is here that the film starts to shift in tone and become a story that plays like Last Tango in Paris (1973) as re-written by Patricia Highsmith in one of her more benevolent moods. In the only roles of any substance, Kristin Scott Thomas and Pio Marmaï prove to be utterly convincing throughout as the pair caught in a doomed scenario that is bound to end badly for at least one of them. This is a very small but compelling film, one that despite a premise that I thought would be off-putting, ultimately proved to be challenging and rewarding thanks to the adroit playing by the leads and restrained script and direction by Lola Doillon. Well worth 80 minutes of your time I would think.
DVD Availability: This film is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Artificial Eye in a decent if barebones release (it only includes a trailer).
Contre toi /In Your Hands (2010)
Director: Lola Doillon
Producer: Saga Blanchard
Screenplay: Lola Doillon
Cinematography: Mathieu Vadepied
Art Direction: Stephanie Guitard, Stanislas Reydellet
Music: Anthony Leroy, Dominique Leroy and Sandra Moubarak
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Pio Marmaï, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Marie-Sohna Conde