'The End': Berlin Review

The End still 2 - Gérard Depardieu - H 2016
Courtesy of Les films du Worso/LGM Films
... can't come fast enough.

French acting icon Gerard Depardieu reteams with his 'Valley of Love' director, Guillaume Nicloux, for this trifle of a movie.

While watching The End, audiences may be forgiven for wondering whether it’s just the protagonist who’s lost or whether writer-director Guillaume Nicloux has lost his marbles, too. Gerard Depardieu, who starred in the director’s Cannes competition entry The Valley of Love, here plays an amateur hunter who accidentally loses his way in a verdant French forest when his dog disappears into the undergrowth. At about the same time, the narrative traipses into semi-experimental territory, with less of a message or underlying idea to hold the enterprise together than just a slow-paced string of increasingly strange and random occurrences. Given the names involved, some festival exposure is guaranteed, though it’s unlikely it would have surfaced at all had it been made by unknowns.

The film opens with Depardieu, only wearing boxer shorts, getting out of bed early in the morning. After breakfast, he takes his dog, rifle and some provisions and drives to a nearby forest for some hunting. But quite early on, he loses sight of his trusted, four-legged friend and while searching for the poor animal, gets lost himself. In the evening, he’s forced to light a fire to sort-of keep warm, while half a bottle of lukewarm lemon soda — its brand logo always incongruously visible — is the only thing he’s got left for hydration. The nameless character — simply called l’homme in the credits — won’t meet anyone until the next day, when a skinny and unpleasant youngster (Swann Arlaud) promises to take him to a nearby path in exchange for some cash but subsequently dumps him.

Depardieu, with his hulking physique, is a very physical actor, and he delivers another altogether vanity-free performance here. Increasingly disheveled, unkempt and unshaven, the bellowing Frenchman slowly transforms into a kind of French Robinson Crusoe over the course of the film’s first half, having to survive on his own in the forest with practically no means or food at his disposal (his rifle and phone are stolen during the first night). Indeed, not a lot happens for the first 50 minutes but even so, Depardieu’s focused intensity and rising desperation is not uninteresting to watch.

There’s a sense throughout that all this is a long-winded and a little thin set-up for something bigger and more interesting to come. But the feature, which was also written by Nicloux, comes apart at the seams in its last 30 minutes, when Depardieu meets a naked, largely silent and apparently shell-shocked woman (Audrey Bonnet) who is a total mystery. Recalling a piercing female scream he heard earlier that day and the unpleasantly cocky youth he paid to try and get out of the forest, the male protagonist tries to figure out a possible explanation for the woman’s worrying cowering and her lack of clothes.

Audiences will likewise try to figure out what is going on, but the film is both too opaque — there are no hard confirmations, like flashbacks or eyewitness accounts — and too obvious, with the woman finally murmuring “There’s no room for two dicks …,” a sentence that should be devastating but instead registers as almost laughable. Indeed, this particularly graphic detail seems to at once disprove the idea Arlaud’s loner character was involved, since he clearly operated solo, while it also seems too specific to be made up, thus robbing the character and her state of any sense of mystery she might have had.  

To make matters worse, the woman doesn’t say much else even when the male protagonist does manage to get both of them out of the forest. And when he ends up taking her back to his house to look after her, she has a weird way of thanking him for saving her and himself from the indifference of the natural world. Is Nicloux trying to make an excessively crude comment on the dominance of the patriarchy? Or is he looking for a cheap way to shock his audience? Since none of these characters have any backstories or personalities and not all that much happens, every single thing that does happen will be excessively scrutinized by audiences looking for some kind of meaning, a scrutiny this barer-than-bare-bones story can't handle, finally making the entire enterprise a futile and insignificant one.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Production companies: Les Films du Worso, LGM Cinema
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Swann Arlaud, Audrey Bonnet, Didier Abot, Xavier Beauvois
Writer-director: Guillaume Nicloux
Producers: Sylvia Pialat, Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Benoit Quainon
Director of photography: Christophe Offenstein
Costume designer: Anais Romand
Editor: Guy Lecorne
Music: Eric Memarsan
Casting: Brigitte Moidon
Sales: Gaumont

Not rated, 81 minutes