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In most movies, having a superpower is a pretty cool thing. It allows you to realize your wildest dreams, save the universe from mass destruction or, simply enough, to be part of a multibillion dollar franchise now owned by The Walt Disney Company.
But in Patrick-Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic’s very independent and very melancholic anti-superhero film, Blind Spot (L’Angle mort), about a French man born with the ability to render himself invisible, such a power only leads to loneliness, alienation and a feeling that one would have been better off without it.
It’s a refreshingly pessimistic take on a genre that’s dominated Hollywood, and the global box office, for nearly two decades and counting. And while Blind Spot lags in spots and could have used more of a pulse, it comes together in the last act and manages to get its Existentialist message across: with great power comes great sadness.
Based on an original idea by novelist and occasional filmmaker Emmanuel Carrere (La Moustache), the story follows down-and-out music store employee Dominick Brassan (Jean-Christophe Folly), who lives in a dreary suburb north of Paris and has a touch-and-go relationship with his affable girlfriend, Viveka (Isabelle Carre).
Dominick, whose parents were musicians and who makes his own instruments on the side, seems like your average unhappy Parisian, but there’s a hitch: he can vanish into thin air. That power — or more like that sickness — is first witnessed in an opening prologue, set in the 1970s, where a baby with a high fever disappears in his bassinet, then reappears a minute afterward. Thirty years later, the baby has grown up to become the gloomy if rather friendly Dominick, who still makes himself invisible from time to time in order to spy on his neighbors, including a beautiful blind musician (the always excellent Golshifteh Farahani) he watches from a hallway window.
During those moments, Dominick takes off all his clothes (otherwise he’d look like the character from James Whale’s 1933 classic The Invisible Man, a film that feels like more of an influence here than anything recent), which means that many scenes in Blind Spot involve actor Folly lurking around in the buff. But there’s nothing very practical about the process, especially when Dominick gets locked outside his flat at one point, and his invisibility is presented with a sad tinge of irony.
Bernard and Trividic, who’ve made a few other low-fi genre films together (Trividic is also the screenwriter of Patrice Chereau’s Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train and Anne Fontaine’s Reinventing Marvin), keep the action realistic and rarely resort to compute-generated fakery. In order to disappear, Dominick has to gasp and heave as if he were having a panic attack, nearly going into convulsions. Later on, he needs to burn himself with a cigarette to provoke the same sensation. And sometimes he doesn’t want to become invisible at all, yet his agitated state winds up triggering it.
The plot in Blind Spot starts to kick in, if never quite enough, when a childhood friend and fellow invisible, Richard (Sami Ameziane), pops back into the picture and warns Dominick that their special power may soon be expiring. There’s another storyline involving people committing bizarre suicides in the Paris metro, although that narrative is never hashed out and doesn’t really connect with anything else.
If the movie offers up less suspense than your average supernatural thriller, it’s perhaps because the filmmakers seem more interested in using the genre to explore Dominick’s ongoing midlife crisis, showing how much of a rut he’s in and how he needs to find a way out of it. There are also hints of social commentary in the fact that Dominick is a black man whose parents came over from the French Antilles — at one point someone remarks that Viveka dates him out of “colonial guilt” — although his invisibleness is never directly utilized as a metaphor for his race.
Unlike all the Marvel and DC tentpole flicks, where the characters usually harness their powers to become their true selves, Blind Spot is essentially about someone who just wants to be normal again, to be left alone so he can sit and play his cigar-box guitar on the couch. That may feel like a letdown for viewers hoping to catch a thrill, but at a time when most films force fantasy heroics down our throats, this minor, mellow riff on the superhero narrative comes across as a welcome alternative.
Shot in colorfully noir-ish HD by Jonathan Ricquebourg, who did terrific work on last year’s Cannes Critics’ Week entry Sheherazade, the majority of the film takes place in a drab, rain-soaked banlieue where the most welcoming place in the whole neighborhood is the Chinese grocery store. It’s an entirely unromantic vision of Paris, yet like Dominick’s unique and troubling condition, it feels real.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (ACID)
Production companies: EX NIHILO, Les Films de Pierre, A.S. Prod, Rouge International
Cast: Jean-Christophe Folly, Isabelle Carré, Golshifteh Farahani, Sami Ameziane, Claudia Tagbo
Directors: Patrick-Mario Bernard, Pierre Trividic
Screenwriters: Patrick-Mario Bernard, Pierre Trividic, based on an original idea by Emmanuel Carrere
Producers: Marie-Ange Luciani, Patrick Sobelman
Director of photography: Jonathan Ricquebourg
Production designers: Axel Deboaisne, Daphne Deboaisne
Costume designer: Sarah Anna De Silva
Editor: Annette Durtertre
Composer: Patrick-Mario Bernard
Sales: Doc & Film International
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