'The Park' ('Le Parc'): Cannes Review

Courtesy of Shellac
A mysterious minimalist romance.

Damien Manivel ('A Young Poet') presents his second feature in the Cannes ACID sidebar.

All it takes is a girl, a guy and a touch of phantasmagoria to make for an intriguing contemporary romance in The Park (Le Parc), French filmmaker Damien Manivel’s second feature after his well-received Locarno debut, A Young Poet.

Set over a single day and night in a desolate suburban woodland, this minimalist teenage fable plays like a remake of Before Sunrise directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul or the late Manoel de Oliveira, offering up a shred of story filled with touches of humor and, as the movie progresses, bizarre occurrences that take place in some sort of dreamlike realm.

Premiering in Cannes’ off-off ACID sidebar, which, after over two decades, has featured the work of indie-minded filmmakers like Guy Maddin, Serge Bozon, Avi Mograbi, Virgile Vernier and Justine Triet (whose In Bed With Victoria opens the Critics’ Week this year), the micro-sized pic is probably too small to make its way to the general art house circuit, but could find takers at festivals and French film events.

Using fixed camera setups and delicately shot HD imagery (by Isabel Pagliai, who also co-wrote the script), Manivel follows a pair of anonymous adolescents — a rather seductive and chatty karate kid (Maxime Bachellerie) and a more quiet-minded gymnast (Naomie Vogt-Roby) — as they do a long walk-and-talk around their neighborhood park. The two are obviously on a first date and the performances are so natural, with the usual fits and starts in the conversation, that we could be watching a candid-camera documentary about young love in provincial France.

But when the guy eventually heads back home, leaving the girl to engage in a lengthy SMS exchange with him as the sun sets over a distant tree line, we learn that things aren’t so simple (are they ever?) and that he may be more of a player than we thought.

From thereon in, The Park — which clocks in at an economic 71 minutes — heads to much stranger places, toeing the line between reality and something possibly paranormal, especially once night falls and the girl finds herself alone in the wilderness.

Manivel keeps us guessing until the very end about the verisimilitude of the proceedings, especially when a helpful security guard (Sessouma Sobere) slowly takes on another, more troubling role, leaving us to contemplate the danger of what may really just be an overstated case of the lovesick blues.

Shot on a tiny budget, the film uses its exterior locations to the fullest, while excellent sound work by Jerome Petit and Simon Apostolou creates an atmospheric backdrop for such an illusory outdoor tale.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (ACID)
Production companies: MLD Films, Shellac Sud
Cast: Naomie Vogt-Roby, Maxime Bachellerie, Sessouma Sobere
Director-producer: Damien Manivel
Screenwriters: Damien Manivel, Isabel Pagliai
Executive producer: Martin Bertier
Director of photography: Isabel Pagliai
Editor: William Laboury
Sales agent: The Open Reel

In French

Not rated, 71 minutes

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