Carre blanc: Toronto Film Review

Cryptic sci-fi thriller has loads of atmosphere, but not much else.

French writer-director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti is the latest to take a crack at the dystopian futuristic thriller.

PARIS — A dystopian futuristic thriller with shades of Kubrick and Lynch, yet without a veritable screenplay of its own, Carre blanc reps an intriguing though extremely patchy debut for writer-director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti. Clocking in at less than 80 minutes, this disjointed portrait of a brutal futuristic society offers up a clear case of style over substance, with compelling visuals and sound design making up for a lack of real content. A cast lead by Sami Bouajila (Omar Killed Me) helped nab film a small-scale French release and a slot in the current Toronto International Film Festival. Ancillary viewing will be limited to hardcore genre fans.

In a time and place that are never defined (the film was actually shot back in 2007 in Belgium and Luxembourg), a corporatized society punishes its weaker citizens with vicious beatings, turning them quite literally into mincemeat for the remaining population. Following his mother’s suicide, Philippe (Bouajila) has been trained to join the executive ranks of the nameless totalitarian regime, holding down a job which consists of humiliating and torturing potential employees. Meanwhile, his estranged wife, Marie (Julie Gayet, Eight Times Up), spends her days wandering the city’s morbid steel-and-glass landscape, looking (or not) to reconnect with Philippe.

That’s about as far as the plot goes, and even those elements are tough to piece together in commercial director Leonetti’s highly elliptical narrative, which seems to have been written at least partially in the editing room. Indeed, while the film’s persecution scenes offer up some chilling examples of professional malfeasance (picture Michael Haneke meets The Office), the rest of the story is told in bits and pieces that are connected through creepy background noises, bizarre announcements (“It’s time to make a baby!”) and other elements reminiscent of 1984 and Brave New World.

But while those classics described hauntingly believable worlds meant to parallel our own, it’s hard to find anything resembling reality in Carre blanc (which translates to White Square), and Leonetti makes few efforts to render things credible. At best, he creates an unsettling atmosphere, setting the action amid gloomy modernist exteriors, which are captured in slow-moving, Kubrickian zooms by cinematographer David Nissen. The layered sound design by Edgar Vidal (The Orphanage) also adds a welcome, dissonant ambiance that patches over some of the scenario’s many gaps.

Given very little to work with, Bouajila and Gayet come across more as bodies filling the frame than as full-fledged characters. If they’re meant to be the only living factors in this otherwise lifeless universe, the absence of engaging dialogue and situations winds up turning them into additional fodder for a Soylent Green devoid of real people.


Opens: In France (Sept 7); Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Solair Films, Tarantula, Radio Television Suisse
Cast: Sami Bouajila, Julie Gayet, Jean-Pierre Andreani, Fejria Deliba, Valerie Bodson, Carlos Leal
Director/screenwriters: Jean-Baptiste Leonetti
Producers: Benjamin Mamou, Jean-Baptiste Leonetti
Executive producer: Camille Havard Bourdon
Director of photography: David Nissen
Production designer: Noelle Van Parijs
Music: Evgueni Galperine
Costume designer: Nicole Ferrari
Editor: Alexandro Rodriguez
Sales Agent: Coach 14
No rating, 78 minutes