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Alain Guiraudie’s Darkly Comic Backwoods Fable

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Marking a welcome re-embrace of the streamlined murdery perversities of his terrific “Stranger by the Lake,” Alain Guiraudie provides the Cannes Premiere part considered one of its darkly glowing standouts with the unsettlingly offbeat “Misericordia.” Within the director’s greatest work, Guiraudie’s trademark is to infuse style dalliances with mordant wit and a deliciously peculiar, defiant queerness. And whereas it might initially look like  simple — and whereas it fortunately avoids the wild tonal swings of muddy tragicomedy “Staying Vertical” (2016) and moderately baffling terrorism sex-farce “Nobody’s Hero” (2022) — no person may ever accuse this more and more twisted psychodrama of enjoying it straight. 

From the beginning, there’s one thing off. The prologue is a driving sequence, shot from the standpoint of the unseen driver, by way of the narrowing nation roads of hilly southwestern France. There’s nothing overtly odd happening, even the panorama is banal, shot in hazy earth tones by Claire Mathon’s intelligent, unromanticized digital camera. However one thing within the absolute silence from the driving force (no buzzing, no automotive radio) and on this stretch of Marc Verdaguer’s vaguely sinister rating is harking back to a Hitchcock following scene, delivered with the cool precision of Claude Chabrol. It seems like there’s malice right here, or a least an uncanny absence of kindness. 

The impression is dispelled, nevertheless, at journey’s finish. Jérémie (Félix Kysyl), a well mannered younger man with a boyish, obliging air, has returned to the small city the place he spent his teenage years, to attend the funeral of Jean-Pierre, the baker for whom he used to work. He’s met warily by his outdated playmate Vincent (Jean-Baptiste Durand), Jean-Pierre’s son, however extra warmly by Vincent’s mom Martine (Catherine Frot), the brand new widow. She insists, over Jérémie’s obvious reluctance to intrude, that he stays together with her in the home above the bakery, within the bed room that was Vincent’s earlier than he acquired married and began a household of his personal.

The roots of Vincent’s animosity quickly turns into clear: He suspects Jérémie of wanting to place the strikes on his still-attractive mom. In the meantime, Martine believes that Jérémie had truly been in love together with her useless husband. However then, the primary particular person Jérémie makes an overt cross at is Vincent’s greatest buddy Walter (David Ayala), a rotund loner, keen on pastis, who lives by himself in his household’s outdated home and appears to take satisfaction in not working or partaking with the world very a lot. Vincent and Jérémie’s relationship can be underlain with a homoeroticism that crackles by way of their wrestling matches and thru Vincent’s behavior of displaying up on the break of day to hover by Jérémie’s mattress. Add into the combination an area priest, Father Philippe (Jacques Develay), an avid mushroom-forager whose earthly passions are enflamed to a really unpriestly diploma by the brand new returnee, and you’ve got a heaving, mulchy mass of sexual risk for Jérémie to navigate. Who will he seduce or be seduced by? Why not all of them, à la “Teorema”?

A grubby little homicide happens within the forest close by, sophisticated by the moderately fantastic element that much-sought-after morels apparently thrive on soil nourished by decomposing human stays and can pop up in a single day within the form of the shallow-buried sufferer. Or maybe that’s simply the guilt get together’s fancy, like a fungal model of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” merely one other crimson herring designed to steadily unpick our personal preconceptions about guilt and innocence and bumpkinhood on this unusual village.

Abetted by a brilliantly forged set of oddballs, from Vincent together with his Fifties prizefighter body to the unkempt Walter together with his soiled undershirt straining throughout his stomach to Martine together with her air of stylish sexual worldliness to Father Philippe who hides his pleasure beneath his cassock, there hasn’t been a extra exaggeratedly eccentric imaginative and prescient of French provincialism since Bruno Dumont established his “Li’l Quinquin” universe.

And so our pure sympathies are redirected and redirected once more because the comparatively partaking and telegenic Jérémie turns into the Guiraudie equal of an unreliable narrator. “Misericordia,” we ultimately notice, between the absurdist gags about sexuality and the sardonic sideswipes at non secular hypocrisy, doesn’t comply with a fish making an attempt to swim in unfamiliar waters, nor even an out-of-towner cat set free amongst the native pigeons. As a substitute it’s a slippery, changeable parable a couple of significantly amoral cuckoo seeking to feather a brand new nest.

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