Crawl: Palm Springs Review

Crawl Palm Springs Film Still - H 2012

Crawl Palm Springs Film Still - H 2012

A powerful sense of place and well-defined characters lift this uneven romantic drama.

First-time filmmaker Hervé Lasgouttes puts an aimless young man to the test in a crime-tinged romance set on the stormy Brittany coast.

PALM SPRINGS – A larcenous young man falls for a woman as focused as he is irresolute in Crawl, a French drama set among the canneries and bars of small-town Brittany. Debuting director Hervé Lasgouttes uses the chilly setting to potent effect, and his eye for local detail and compassion for his characters ground the film even when the storytelling falters. The feature, which received its North American premiere at the Palm Springs festival, is set for late-January release in France and is certain to attract further attention on the fest circuit. 

As the ferrety protagonist Martin, the well-cast Swann Arlaud is a young man so boyish that he often seems unformed. Drifting from job to job and theft to theft, he has no interest beyond the moment. But he also demonstrates a strong nurturing streak, sharing the seafood and produce that are the spoils of his labor, legitimate and otherwise, with his married sister, Corinne (Anne Marivin), and widowed father (Jean-Marie Frin). Gwen (Nina Meurisse), the cannery worker he wordlessly picks up one night at a club, is surprised to find him returning to her trailer with a carton of fresh tomatoes, and an eagerness to cook supper. 

But whatever Martin has to offer, Gwen has bigger things on her mind than settling down with a local boy. On her horizon is Mexico and the dream of moving there to swim competitively. While filleting fish at work, she listens through earbuds to Spanish lessons, and she uses her lunch hours to train, on her own, as an endurance swimmer. 

The sequences of Gwen gliding through the gray sea in her wetsuit, doing the forward crawl, have a muscularity and eloquence, thanks to cinematographer Emmanuelle Le Fur, whose astute camerawork throughout the film places character first while capitalizing on the region’s cold light. Raphaël Ibanez de Garayo’s broody, judiciously used score also suits the rough coastal milieu.

Those swimming scenes propel the narrative in a way that the increasingly involved plotting doesn’t quite manage. Lasgouttes and his co-writer, Loïc Delafoulhouze, load their story with a spiraling progression of incidents that requires more tension than they’re able to build or sustain. Crises and moral dilemmas resolve themselves in relatively mild fashion, soon after they’re presented; this rhythm might reflect real life but strips the drama of big-screen energy. 

The screenplay interweaves Martin and Gwen’s story with that of Corinne and her husband, Jean (Gilles Cohen), drawing parallels between the two couples. Chief among these is the matter of unplanned pregnancy and the displeasure it provokes in both men. In different ways, Martin and Jean partake of the sea’s bounty of lobsters, oysters and clams whether they’ve earned it or not. Jean is a contractor who’s feeling the strains of living large and the deadline pressures of a major construction project at the cannery. His need for under-the-table workers, Martin among them, takes on unexpected significance after a particularly stupid instance of thieving lands Martin in serious trouble. 

If the chain of events undermines the story’s intended pull, the restrained performances never do — from Meurisse’s quiet vibrancy to Cohen’s world-weariness and Frin’s haunted solitude. Lasgouttes suggests hope for his characters but wisely doesn’t try to wrap things up with neat reassurances. The final scene finds Martin reaching for something other than moment-to-moment survival, something that might involve commitment or responsibility, but his actions are shaded by a powerful ambiguity. 

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Production company: Sensito Films
Cast: Swann Arlaud, Anne Marivin, Nina Meurisse, Gilles Cohen, Jean-Marie Frin
Director: Hervé Lasgouttes
Screenwriters: Loïc Delafoulhouze, Hervé Lasgouttes
Producers: Antonin Dedet, Stéphanie Douet
Director of photography: Emmanuelle Le Fur
Production designer: Erwan Le Floc'h
Music: Raphaël Ibanez de Garayo
Costume designer: Alice Cambournac
Editor: Laurence Bawedin
No MPAA rating, 92 minutes