What does one make of Carré Blanc, an altogether confounding debut from director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti? Set in a dystopian future, this sort-of-thriller incorporates elements of experimentation, Greek new wave strangeness, Orwellian dictatorship, and even a penchant for distinctive architecture. Léonetti’s film will be a struggle for some purely due to its severe, barren screenplay and reserved performances. Nevertheless, it works a mesmerising, hypnotic trance that I found rather fascinating. Its oddness has a very rhythmic quality to it that works in harmony with the director’s playful attitudes to imagery.
In a future time that never gets pinpointed–it certainly looks enough like present day to assume it’s not set all that far off into the horizon–Carré Blanc peeks into the weird world of just a few of its inhabitants. There’s a man (Sami Bouajila, Omar Killed Me) who tests theories on unwitting participants for a major corporation, perhaps as some way of weaselling out the undesirables from society. There’s a carpark security guard who is required to smile his pearly whites (which he dabs with white-out) for every passing customer before retreating to his haunted life. There’s also an omnipotent voice that bellows out over the neighbourhood expelling motivational non-sequiturs about croquet, a mysterious organisation with a particularly peculiar obsession with murder and suicide victims, and also a polar bear. I have little idea as to what any of it means, but I guess my brain was willing to dive into the waters of this film’s time-hopping curiosity because I was never bored.
Where the film impresses most of all is in the visuals. The cinematography of David Nissen is truly sublime, with its frequently still, static imagery reflecting the homogenised world these people exist in. It has a coldness that recalls Haneke, but a lightness that doesn’t weigh down the action. Filmed in Belgium and Luxembourg, the director has made wonderful use of local iconography, creating very artistic compositions that make fabulous use of the unique and fascinating shapes that the local buildings have. They are shown to exquisite effect where even the dank, uniform appearance of a local housing commission has the power to awe. Carré Blanc is perhaps a bit too vacant and vague to its intentions to hit a viewer in any really emotional way, but it utilises its barely 80-minute runtime in an economically beguiling way that other directors could learn from.
Carré Blanc screens again at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Tuesday August 14th
Director: Jean-Baptiste Léonetti
Cast: Sami Bouajila, Julie Gayat, Jean-Pierre Andréani, Dominique Paturel,
Majid Hives and Adéle Exarchopoulos