In post WWII Europe, a young girl with no teeth, Mia (Romane Hemelaers), is outfitted with dentures made of ice several times a day by the caretaker who lives with her in a multi-floor apartment kept in shadows by the louvered shutters outside each window. There is a painting of a grand building, one of many things which haunt the caretaker’s dreams. Then one day the ‘master’ calls, telling him to have Mia ready to leave in 13 days. When Mia begins to rebel, the man, Albert Scellinc (Paul Hilton, "Lady Macbeth"), reveals himself as an “Earwig.”
Laura's Review: B+
There is something about human teeth in movies that is inherently creepy. In “The Tenant,” Polanski’s character finds a tooth imbedded in the wall of his apartment. Kirk scares the living daylights out of Pam by dropping a tooth he found into her hand on the porch of the Sawyer family home in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” And was there ever a cinematic torture scene more cringe inducing in a mainstream Hollywood movie than the one visited upon Dustin Hoffman in “The Marathon Man?” In cowriter (with "Evolution's" Geoff Cox)/director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s adaptation of Brian Catling's surreal novel, Mia eventually gets a more permanent solution for her missing teeth which may be even more disturbing than the temporary one.
Hadzihalilovic has made three feature films now, all having to do with pre-teens being kept isolated while enduring strange rituals and medical procedures as they reach adolescence and while this is her first adaptation, Catling’s themes dovetail neatly with her own. The major difference this time around is that Mia is not among a group of her peers (young girls in the forest in 2006’s extraordinary “Innocence,” young boys by the sea in 2016’s “Evolution”) and the adults are not female, but a lone male, this time the film’s main character.
Albert seems obsessed with a cabinet of crystal glasses, a flashback to his boyhood showing a woman (his mother?) ‘playing’ one by running her finger around its rim. When Mia takes one from an upper shelf and drops it, Albert wraps each shard individually in newspaper. Is this a clue to their WWI era past, the breaking of a glass, which happens to be ruby crystal, a tradition at Jewish weddings symbolizing the end of virginity? This may or may not be supported when Albert dreams of his pregnant wife, Marie (Anastasia Robin), lost in childbirth.
Things get stranger when Albert takes Mia out of their apartment for the first time. A red coat has been delivered for this purpose (whether relevant or not, one cannot help but think of the little girl whose red coat was the only color seen in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”). Mia giggles as Albert pulls white knee socks over her feet, which have been bare up until now. They walk about the town (cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg ("The Death of Louis XIV") evokes Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales in his fog-laden Belgian locations), but when they approach a lake, Mia breaks free, runs to its edge and allows herself to plunge into it, face forward. Across the lake, a woman looks on.
We will learn that this is Céleste (Romola Garai, "Suffragette"), a waitress at the local tavern Albert goes to that evening. After guzzling a beer, he will be approached by a stranger (Peter Van den Begin) who orders him another one, but Albert becomes so agitated he attacks Céleste with a broken bottle. She will be attended to by Laurence (Alex Lawther, "The Last Duel"), a man we’ve seen sitting at the bar, and when she returns home, we will see a painting of the same building that graces Albert and Mia’s home hanging in her kitchen. Albert will face a new nemesis when a visiting dentist delivers a black cat in a carrier to Mia, but he will also meet Céleste once more.
Like all of the director’s films, “Earwig” has a dreamlike quality, its time and place recalling Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘Dream Story,’ the inspiration for Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” Albert may even have something in common with “Eraserhead’s” Henry Spencer. Sound is hushed, ticking clocks prominent (no dialogue is spoken until Albert answers a ringing phone at the 23 minute mark). A tobacco stained color palette gives the film a period sepia tone before it gradually takes on Hadzihalilovic’s favored deep greens and reds. “Earwig” will frustrate those looking for a traditional narrative, but those open to a cinematic dreamscape will experience a haunting mystery.
Robin's Review: B
Juno Films opens "Earwig" in select theaters on 7/15/22 - click here for play dates.