‘A Stormy Summer Night’ (‘Orage’): Film Review

Orage Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Rezo Films

A brooding, atmospheric thriller with a murky and unconvincing plot.

Assistant director Fabrice Camoin makes his feature debut with an adaptation of a 1960 novel by Marguerite Duras.

The oeuvre of French writer Marguerite Duras has yielded an array of cinematic offerings, ranging from Alain Resnais’s masterpiece, Hiroshima mon amour, to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s kinky fit of Eastern exotica, The Lover, to the adaptations that Duras herself directed  most notably the Delphine Seyrig starrer, India Song.

Working with one of the author’s lesser-known texts  the short novel 10:30 on a Summer Night, which was already brought to the screen in 1966 by Jules Dassin, with Romy Schnedier in the lead role  — debuting director Fabrice Camoin tries to update the material to contemporary times, but winds up with an uneven mélange of psychological drama and stylistic thriller in A Stormy Summer Night (Orage).

Starring comic actress Marina Fois, cast heavily against type as a woman under the influence of booze and a bad marriage, and Sami Bouajila as the fugitive she tries to help escape from a double-murder charge, the elliptically spun narrative (scripted by Camoin and Ariane Fert (Sister Smile)) has some strong visual touches and an impressively atmospheric setting, but remains altogether muddled and unconvincing in terms of its story. A small theatrical release in France will be followed by offshore stints at festivals and in Francophone territories catering to scattered Duras completists.

Obliquely cutting between two storylines that will eventually fuse together, the film follows the travails of alcoholic Parisian bourgeoise, Maria (Fois), whose road trip to Spain with her crotchety husband (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and friend (Valerie Donzelli, serving no real purpose) is cut short by a thunderstorm, forcing them to lay up at a roadside hotel. While wandering the grounds in a drunken stupor, Maria crosses paths with Nabil (Bouajila), a French North African fleeing from the cops after shooting his wife and her lover in what was clearly a crime of passion.

Soon the pair is on the run, stealing cars, pointing guns and failing to reach any sort of mutual understanding as they cross the border en route toward a certain doom. During the joy(less) ride, Camoin never really delves into either character’s psyche, and we’re constantly left pondering who these people are: If Nabil at least has an excuse for his act  although the idea of a love crime seems slightly outdated in 2015  Maria comes across as a blithering, binge-drinking mess, latching on to the handsome criminal in what appears to be an attempt to escape her own existential misery.

The director (who worked as first AD on comedies like The Hedgehog and The Date Coach) fares better in the technical department, creating a foreboding ambiance through murky widescreen cinematography (by Pierre Gantelmi d’Ille and David Chizallet), while using the tenebrous weather conditions and rural locations to underline the helpless state of his protagonists. Editing by Muriel Breton (Hideaway) faithfully mimics the enigmatic style of Duras’ writing, but can sometimes seem too abstruse, as if scenes were left on the cutting room floor for other reasons.

Fully committed performances by Fois (Polisse) and Bouajila (Outside the Law) cannot overcome an underlying sense of dramatic inertia, leaving us with two people who travel to what seems like the end of the earth, but never really wind up anywhere.

Production companies: Les Films du Poisson
Cast: Marina Fois, Sami Bouajila, Valerie Donzelli, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing
Director: Fabrice Camoin
Screenwriters: Fabrice Camoin, Ariane Fert, freely adapted from the novel “Dix heures et demi du soir en ete” by Marguerite Duras
Producers: Laetitia Gonzalez, Yael Fogiel
Directors of photography: Pierre Gantelmi d’Ille, David Chizallet
Production designers: Emmanuel de Chauvigny, Christophe Offret
Costume designer: Bethsabee Dreyfus
Editor: Muriel Breton
Composer: Alexis Rault
Casting directors: Constance Demontoy, Marion Touitou
Sales agent: Rezo

No rating, 83 minutes