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The randomness of daily life is explored to alternately mesmerizing and prosaic effect in Marianne Pistone and Gilles Deroo’s debut feature recently showcased at New Directors/New Films. Depicting the experiences of a young man working in a restaurant at a French seaside town before veering off in another direction entirely, Mouton is an intriguing if not entirely satisfying experiment that nonetheless resonates with a finely observed reality.
The title character (David Merabet), whose nickname translates to “Sheep,” is a seventeen-year-old who has been legally granted independence from his alcoholic mother. Going to work as a chef’s assistant in the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer shortly afterwards, he soon settles in with the rest of the community as he and his co-workers diligently go about their chores. He even finds a girlfriend in the form of a new waitress (Audrey Clement). But not everything in his life goes swimmingly, as evidenced by an uncomfortable scene in which several young people hold him down and take turns spitting in his face.
It’s when a random and brutally vicious attack on the young man during a bacchanal-like celebration occurs—shot discreetly from a distance–that the film dramatically shifts its focus. Suddenly Mouton is out of the picture—both literally and figuratively—and the perspective shifts to the townspeople whose lives naturally go on with their daily routines intact.
Shooting documentary-style in gritty 16mm, the filmmakers have delivered an intriguing exercise that goes beyond the shock value of its startling plot device. Not everyone will be satisfied by its quotidian rhythms, and the languid pacing does indeed prove frustrating at times. But the film beautifully conveys a sense of time and place, and the myriad characters on display prove fascinating for their sheer ordinariness.
Using such devices as narration and title cards to guide us through the random series of events, the film exerts a bizarre pull that is not easily forgotten. While not everyone will go along with its purposeful misdirection, it represents a notable debut for its tyro directors.
(New Directors/New Films)
Production: Boule de Suif
Cast: David Merabet, Michael Mormentyn, Cindy Dumont, Benjamin Cordier, Emmanuel Legrand, Sebastien Legrand, Audrey Clement, Louisette Choquet
Directors/screenwriters/editors: Marianne Pistone
Producer: Gilles Deroo
Director of photography: Eric Alirol
Production designer: Lionel Roy
Not rated, 100 min.
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