Alain (Laurent Lucas, "In My Skin," "The Ordeal") and Bénédicte Getty (Charlotte Gainsbourg, "My Wife Is an Actress," "21 Grams") are a happily married young couple who have just moved to Bel-Air where Alain was recruited as a highly respected engineer. But their perfect life is shattered when they meet the boss's wife. Alice Pollock (Charlotte Rampling, "Heading South") is deeply depressed and thinks nothing of making scenes over her husband's infidelities as a dinner guest at the Getty home. After she commits suicide in their spare room, Alain is both transfixed and horrified to find Alice coming back through Bénédicte.
With is feature debut, "With a Friend Like Harry," director Dominik Moll showed a great talent for creating tone and suspense and getting good performances from his cast but ultimately, his film was a bit of a let down by its failure to gather his ideas and intimations into a satisfying result. His second film, "Lemming," is very much the same thing - a film featuring terrific performances from its four leads whose art direction is integral to the creepy undertones that support its theme of outside forces invading inner family. And yet, when all is said and done, one is left wondering why the symbolism of the titular lemming doesn't really connect with the story and why the transference of personality/ghost plot doesn't quite convince as a tale of unrequited passion.
The lemming, a hamster-like rodent well known for its suicidal herd mentality, is found by Alain when Bénédicte informs him of a kitchen sink stoppage. The little creature is wedged in the plumbing and still alive. The day after the disastrous dinner party (Alice arrives in sunglasses at night, insults her hostess and throws a drink in her husband's face), Bénédicte takes the lemming to the vet's, where she learns it is a Nordic creature not at all indigenous to continental Europe. Alice arrives at her husband's firm to find Alain working late and tries to seduce him, then turns up again at the Getty's house, let in by an uncomfortable Bénédicte. Alice tells the young bride what she did the night before, then announces terrible fatigue and asks for a place to rest. When Alain returns home, Bénédicte informs him that the boss's wife has been asleep in their guest room all day. They try to rouse her from outside a locked door and are horrified to hear the room being trashed followed by a gunshot.
After this highly disturbing series of events, Alain is a bit surprised to find himself accompanying his boss, Richard (André Dussollier, "A Very Long Engagement," "36 Quai des Orfèvres"), on a business trip where Alice's charges against her husband are creepily proven true. A phone call home plunges Alain into a hellish nightmare.
Lucas, who resembles a young Martin Landau, is assembling quite a filmography of horrific French titles, an unusual niche but one he fills well and the talented Gainsbourg has a great movie face, all unusual angles and intelligence. The great Rampling, enjoying a career surge in her sixth decade, is a sexy, lost, menacing presence hovering over the film and Dussollier does a great turn as one of those jolly older gents who turns out to have a dark center. The cast clicks and collides in all its configurations.
Moll's story has been called Lynchian, tied to "Lost Highway," a claim probably spurred more by the resemblance of the Getty's modern row house to the Madisons' Californian abode than by a stylistic connection. Undoubtedly, Moll's movie sneaks beneath the skin and compels one to the screen for its duration, but mulling over Moll proves less satisfying than lingering over Lynch. Was Alain so tempted by Alice's come on that she is able to inhabit his wife after her death? I never bought it. Instead the jovial, even tempered Richard, who becomes surprisingly satyric, perhaps even somewhat satanic, should be the target (and is he?). Moll also keeps returning to plumbing and tunnelling, but to what end? At least he does deliver a nice punch line with our discovery of just where that lemming came from, but again, the joke doesn't really tie-in or connect with anything.
"Lemming" is an intriguing head game from a talented director who needs to solidify his ideas with a bit more substance before he can become truly great.
Alain Getty (Laurent Lucas) is on the fast track of life. A brilliant young engineer, he, with his wife Benedicte (Charlotte Gainsbourgh), moves to a new job in a new city. As a good will gesture, he invites his boss and wife to dinner. Tensions run high between Richard and Alice Pollock (Andre Dussolier and Charlotte Rampling) and the soiree doesn’t go at all well. The disaster of the evening is compounded when Alain discovers a strange rodent plugging the kitchen drain that they soon learn is a “Lemming.”
Director and co-scripter Dominik Moll, with Gilles Marchand, invents a riveting personal tale of suicide, revenge, a ruined dinner, an unidentified rodent and, maybe, personality transference. Alain and Benedicte are a well off and happy young couple but his boss, Richard, and his wife, Alice, are anything but. This is a fact made very evident at the dinner party when Alice venomously accuses Richard of whoring around and throws a glass of wine in his face. Things deteriorate rapidly from here on in.
Lemming” is a taut psychological drama that tantalizes the viewer with its story of the Gettys as we watch their life altered forever by the actions taken by Alice. One evening, while he is working late at the office, Alice arrives looking for Richard. She admits to Alain, before trying to seduce him, that she only stays with her philandering husband “so I can see him croak!” Not exactly a marriage made in heaven and later events involving Alice have considerable repercussions for Alain and Benedicte.
This four-hander will have great appeal to folks who like Alfred Hitchcock. It’s not Hitchcockian, per se, but is intelligent and gripping in its execution. Lemming” is a fine piece of storytelling that is subtle and never obvious with honest-to-god suspense that kept me on my toes for its entire 129 minute run time. Considering that saw it on a production night for our show, Reeling (www.reelingreviews.com), and didn’t start watching “Lemming” until late at and I was tired, my interest was maintained until the very end. That tells of a movie with great appeal. I give it a B+.
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