A Trip (Un Voyage): Film Review

Epicentre Films
Assisted suicide drama loses its way between emotion and esthetics.

Samuel Benchetrit and Anna Mouglalis, the team behind Sundance prizewinner "I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster," tackle assisted suicide in this low-budget French drama.

Like capital punishment, assisted suicide is an issue over which opinion is sharply divided, cutting across political and religious lines. Audiences are likely to be similarly divided over Samuel Benchetrit's A Trip (Un Voyage), the story of a couple who decide to take that route, some finding it a sensitive, affecting portrayal of despair in the face of an impending death, others finding it stiff, mannered and at times downright embarrassing. Either way, the movie's determinedly downbeat approach and lack of concessions to saleability will likely confine it to the festival circuit and a few arthouse outlets in urban centres.

Where Valeria Golino's acclaimed Miele, which screened at last year's Cannes festival, dealt with the subject by taking a hard-eyed look at an assisted suicide activist, Benchetrit plunges into the emotionally-charged territory inhabited by a woman who is to receive the suicide treatment, accompanied by her grief-stricken husband. The journey of the title is made by Mona (Anna Mouglalis), a woman in early middle age afflicted by a terminal disease whose precise nature is never specified, and Daniel (Yann Goven), traveling from Paris to Lausanne where euthanasia is authorized under Swiss law and where the major part of the action takes place.

"Today is the day I will die. Thank you, my love. (...) In one hour I will be dead," Mona announces in the opening shot, direct to camera but addressing Daniel. We then flash back to a scene of the couple seeing their eight-year-old son off to stay with his grandparents prior to their booking into a Lausanne hotel for a final weekend together. They walk briskly through a park and, virtually without breaking stride, strip off and take a dip in the lake. In the hotel restaurant that evening, Anna confesses to Daniel that she has taken a sneak preview of his latest novel (he's a writer). She marches up to a couple of diners seated nearby and tells the woman: "I've come to tell you that I find you very beautiful." They return to their room and make love. The next day they go for a walk in the mountains and pretend to be apes, perhaps getting in touch with their primal instincts.

As if aware that the subject is a minefield, Benchetrit steers an unsteady course between, on the one hand, contained emotion and hushed tones -- much of the dialogue is whispered, murmured, muttered and occasionally sobbed -- and outbursts that border on hysteria. There is a similar dissonance between the realism of the filming -- hand-held camera, natural light, minimal use of music -- and the estheticized, almost stilted, acting style that the director has imposed.

The movie's climax, in which Mona prepares for death under Daniel's distraught gaze and finally consumes the lethal concoction prepared for her by the suicide technicians, takes place in an impersonal hotel room rented for the occasion. Soberly filmed, its impact on the spectator will be proportional to the degree of credibility that he or she has been able to previously attach to the characters. Mouglalis -- an accomplished actress, Benchetrit's companion off set and the star of his 2007 cult hit I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster  -- does her best to strike a balance between the conflicting demands of detachment and empathy, but it's a matter of personal taste as to how far she succeeds.

With its end-of-life theme, A Trip shares concerns with Michael Haneke's award-winning Amour but lacks that film's grace, coherence and compassion. Benchetrit's courage in embarking on it can be admired, but it's by no means sure that the movie has arrived at its intended destination.

Production companies: Jack Stern Productions, Blue Velvet Communications

Cast: Anna Mouglalis, Yann Goven, Celine Sallette, Francois Feroleto, Vincent Deniard

Director: Samuel Benchetrit

Screenwriter: Samuel Benchetrit

Producers: Alain Bernard, Samuel Benchetrit

Director of Photography: Pierre Aim

Editor: Thomas Fernandez

Music: Raphael

International sales: Epicentre Films

No rating, 87 minutes