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If French film noir guru Jacques Audiard lived in Provence instead of in Paris, he might have cooked up something like Toril – an intriguing little crime thriller about a struggling young farmer who starts cultivating marijuana, among other cash crops, in order to pay the bills. Featuring Dheepan co-star Vincent Rottiers in an intense and often understated lead performance, this debut effort from director Laurent Teyssier and screenwriter Guillaume Grosse can feel a bit systematically heavy-handed in the plot department, but still offers enough to chew on for arthouse genre aficionados.
In a blighted farming community of southern France, 20-something Philippe (Rottiers) has already taken to growing weed in order to scrape by. But when his father, Jean-Jacques (Bernard Blancan), tries to kill himself instead of giving up the family ranch to debt collectors, Philippe decides to step in and lend a helping hand.
Partnering up with sadistic local kingpin, Jose (Tim Seyfi) – a man whose preferred method of torture is having his enemies get mauled to death by bulls – Philippe starts distributing narcotics out of his dad’s wholesale produce stand, mixing up with lots of unsavory characters while trying to put enough money aside to save the day. Of course, things quickly get out of hand, forcing the young man to find a way to extricate himself from the bad guys without getting tossed into the ring as well. (The title Toril is the French word for bullpen.)
Somewhat predictable on the script side, especially all the exposition meant to justify why Philippe turns to crime (it’s the economy, stupid), the story heads to familiar places in a rather unfamiliar setting that benefits from Teyssier’s first-hand knowledge of the agricultural milieu. Characters can feel thinly sketched – especially Philippe’s girlfriend, Sonia (Sabrina Ouazani), who seems to be there either to provide eye-candy or to nag – though strong performances from the whole cast help make up for the lack of personality.
Rottiers, who was memorable as another kind of drug dealer in Dheepan, conveys a lot on screen by doing very little, playing a man of few words with perhaps more smarts than one initially expects. Seyfi is convincing as a ruthless rancher who strikes fear in the competition through sheer bullishness (literally), while the always compelling Karim Leklou (Heat Wave) plays an erratic if likeable partner-in-crime who heads to a sadly foreseeable end.
Using a few narrative ellipses to propel things forward in the last act, Teyssier steps up his game to deliver an ending that offers at least one welcome surprise, with excellent camerawork by Baptiste Chesnais giving the action sequences a much-needed boost of adrenaline. Along with sharp editing by Nicolas Capus, the tech contributions bring a sense of mayhem to the otherwise tranquil surroundings, turning what could be just another day at the farm into a tense play for survival.
Production companies: Tita Productions
Cast: Vincent Rottiers, Sabrina Ouazani, Bernard Blancan, Tim Seyfi, Karim Leklou, Alexis Michalix
Director: Laurent Teyssier
Screenwriter: Guillaume Grosse
Producers: Fred Premel, Christophe Bouffil
Director of photography: Baptiste Chesnais
Production designer: Serge Borgel
Costume designer: Agnes Giudicelli
Editor: Nicolas Capus
Composer: Lionel Corsini
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