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French Thriller Delves Into Sins of the Father

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In “The Successor” — a provocative psychological thriller with much more precise psychology than the style sometimes affords — Paris-based clothier Ellias Barnès (Marc-André Grondin) stands on the precipice of a breakthrough in his profession. He’s poised to take his place as artistic director of the style home Orsino, following the dying of its eponymous founder. If this had been a story of company ambition (à la “Succession”), or maybe a Roman palace intrigue, right here is the second that Ellias would assume the throne. However as an alternative of feeling victorious, he clutches his chest. The nervousness is sort of an excessive amount of. After which the police arrive.

It’s taken greater than a decade, however Ellias has performed all the things he can to distance himself from his organic father. As such, there’s an ironic perversity to the information he will get proper after his gorgeous solo present for Orsino: His dad, Jean-Jacques, is useless, and there’s nobody else to deal with his property. No sooner has Ellias buried his artistic father determine than he’s obliged to take care of the actual one.

Taking a depart of a number of days to return to Montreal (a spot the Canada-born designer, né Sebastian, would like his friends didn’t affiliate together with his self-made persona), Ellias discovers one thing horrible about his dad. The worst attainable factor. And identical to that, Jean-Jacques’ secret is Ellias’ downside to take care of. There’s no query how he ought to deal with the scenario, however it’s straightforward to grasp why he may hesitate. Triggered by the shock, the chest pains return. He wets his pants.

To the viewers’s horror, Ellias finds himself assuming the function his father performed — for a time at the least — in an unconscionable crime. Taken actually, “The Successor” is a chilling factor to observe. Step again and picture what it’s saying on a metaphorical stage, and it’s clear that writer-director Xavier Legrand has crafted one of the damning depictions of patriarchal energy conceivable. Whether or not the movie is supposed to be seen as an remoted case or a metaphor for a a lot bigger societal downside, the affect is unnerving.

Legrand started his profession as a younger actor (showing as an additional in Louis Malle’s “Au Revoir les Enfants”). Although he nonetheless acts, a decade in the past he staged a dramatic reinvention as a filmmaker. Together with his Oscar-nominated brief “Just Before Losing Everything” and award-winning characteristic “Custody,” each a few mom and youngster combating to flee an abusive father, Legrand demonstrated an unusual skill to seize the terrifying real-world stakes of home violence. The topic felt harrowingly actual in Legrand’s fingers, as he framed an escape from the place of the victims.

In “The Successor,” the morality is extra ambiguous, and the character Legrand asks audiences to determine with far pricklier. For a short while, earlier than the movie’s sickening revelation, they may even assume Ellias was unfairly harsh in chopping off his father. That’s actually the view that Jean-Jacques’ one and seemingly solely buddy, Dominique (Yves Jacques), implies when he stops by the modest suburban dwelling to pay his respects. Ellias’ ambition has carried him removed from his middle-class upbringings, and he’s visibly uncomfortable being again in Canada, confronted by these reminders of his roots.

That premise is common sufficient, although the movie’s meticulously staged, arm’s-length method hardly provides Ellias the possibility to grieve. He orders the “express option” on the funeral dwelling and arranges for all of his father’s possessions to be donated to charity. After which comes the twist, which Legrand handles with care, shielding audiences from what may have been an affordable leap scare. Even so, they might spring of their seats, given their emotional funding in a personality who’s brusque and unfriendly, but deeply compelling all the identical.

It’s a difficult function for Grondin, taking part in somebody who’s shut down this a part of his identification. One of many workers on the funeral dwelling acknowledges him from trend faculty. He graciously accepts her flattery, however clearly doesn’t see her as an equal. Legrand calibrates his movies in such a manner that there’s a robust genre-movie engine to drive the plot (this one performs like Alfred Hitchcock by means of Ulrich Seidl), however the substance is contained within the subtext: the phrases that go unstated between characters, or the actions too tough to take, and what bungled choices say about human weak spot.

Why doesn’t Ellias instantly go to the authorities? Is he defending his father’s legacy? Or is he extra involved about what this scandal may do to his profession? “The Successor” is assured to impress debate, and one split-second act will probably alienate a phase of the viewers for good. Seen from Ellias’ perspective, the benevolent-acting Dominique appears extremely suspicious — at the least, till the funeral service, when the total scope of the scenario is revealed. Sitting within the again row, Ellias cries uncontrollably. However this isn’t the catharsis the opposite mourners take it to be.

There are numerous methods Legrand may have made “The Successor” a extra snug expertise. By selecting to mire Ellias in his dad’s misdeeds, he takes the tougher highway and implicates audiences — if not within the sins of the daddy, then within the failings of the system at massive.

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