Deep in the Woods (Au fond des bois) -- Film Review

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LOCARNO -- French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot's "Deep in the Woods" (Au fond des bois) takes a surprisingly benign view of kidnapping and rape in the tale of a bucolic neurotic and her many tumbles in the long grass with a scalawag who beguiles her. Set in the handsome countryside of southern France in 1865, the opening film at the Locarno International Film Festival is filled with lovely scenery and has many sequences showing the voluptuous Isild Le Besco nude in the throes of extreme passion. It could be viewed as the flight of an excitable woman's febrile imagination but given that it's written and directed by a man, it also smacks of sheer male fantasy.

Benoit's fans will likely applaud his distinctly non-PC approach. Certainly the pictures are very pretty, but the film lacks gravity and leaves too many questions unanswered to take it beyond festivals and art houses outside France.

Not least of its potential problems is that the man in the story, a wanderer named Timothee, more of a boy really, is depicted as a filthy scamp with dirty teeth and fingers, broken nails and smelly clothes. Nahuel Perez Biscayart has big eyes, a wide smile and impish charm in the role, but he looks awful. He is, however, a confident trickster with the ability to reduce the often blank-faced Josephine (Le Besco) to compliant jelly merely by running his fingers down her spine.

Appearing lecherous and sneaky, he spies her first in church with her family and then shows up at her home claiming to be deaf and mute. Josephine is betrothed but seems to be a troubled girl. Her doctor father is sympathetic to the boy and wants to treat him. Over dinner, Timothee demonstrates an entertaining knack for illusions. Then he shows how easily he can cause the young woman to quiver in her bustle while he puts her under his spell.

Timothee takes Josephine into the woods and they do to each other the kind of exciting, nasty and satisfying things that lovers do. The problem is that as far as her family is concerned, Josephine has been kidnapped. A search begins.

The consequences of their trysts, including Timothee's arrest and trial, raise the rather large question of whether Josephine was willingly complicit or he was guilty of a violent sexual crime. Jacquot's resolution will no doubt divide audiences but leave them little to chew on.

Venue: Locarno International Film Festival
Production company: Cine-@, Passionfilms, Egoil Tossell Film
Cast: Isild Le Besco, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Jerome Kircher, Mathieu Simonet, Bernard Rouquette, Jean-Pierre Gos
Director/screenwriter: Benoit Jacquot
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Music: Bruno Coulais
Editor: Luc Barnier
Sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 102 minutes
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