Only the Animals

When Alice Farange (Laure Calamy, "Antoinette dans les Cévennes") leaves her cattle farm on the Causse Méjean in the least populated, mountainous Lozère region of France the morning after a blizzard to make her patient rounds, she’ll note an abandoned car by the side of the road.  Later she will learn from police officer Cédric Vigier (Bastien Bouillon, "Jumbo") that its owner, Evelyne Ducat (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, "Summer of 85") , a wealthy vacation home owner, is missing.  As it turns out, there will be multiple suspects tied to her disappearance, but her fate is known by “Only the Animals.”

Laura's Review: C+

Twenty years ago, cowriter (with Gilles Marchand)/director Dominik Moll made a splash with the psychological thriller "With a Friend Like Harry," a good if not great Hitchcockian homage.  Here, adapting Colin Niel's novel, he takes on the more modern issue of the ripple effect of a falsehood perpetrated over the Internet, but his Chinese puzzle box of a plot is overly impressed with its own cleverness, its disparate perceptions slotted together with every ‘I’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed often with contrived coincidence.  And while, yes, every suspect here is looking for love, not a single one of them is sympathetic, two even disloyal to man’s best friend.  The film, with its unique setting of France’s ‘Big Sky’ contrasted against the Ivory Coast’s Abidjan, is stylish but chilly, an engaging if ultimately unsatisfying watch.

The film presents five points of view, some but not all events overlapping (and contradicting).  We’ll learn Alice’s marriage has gone so cold, even her dad (Fred Ulysse, "13 Tzameti") comments on its sexlessness.  While husband Michel (Denis Ménochet, "Inglourious Basterds") always seems tucked away in an office on his computer, Alice is having an affair with sheep farmer Joseph Bonnefille (Damien Bonnard, 2019's "Les Misérables") who is also a patient due to his inability to cope with the death of his mother (it gets weirder, but not quite enough to explain his part of the story).  When Joseph dumps her and her husband turns up with a black eye, Alice will completely misconstrue what is actually going on.   

Moll jumps back in time for Evelyne’s story, picking up as she travels to her vacation home.  She’ll pick up her waitress, the twenty years younger Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), but leaves her with a kiss off note two days later.  Believing she’s found her soul mate, Marion follows her, but when Evelyne refuses to allow her to stay in her husband Guillaume’s (Roland Plantin) home, the young girl finds lodging at a campsite that is closed for the season.                    

Then there is Armand (Guy Roger 'Bibisse' N'Drin), a young scammer in Abidjan who goes to Papa Sanou (Christian Ezan) for some good juju.  He is told ‘chance is stronger than you,’ words that will come back to haunt him, but not before he makes so much money, he manages to reunite with his baby mother Monique (Marie Amie) when she is not attending to her white, French sugar daddy.

Moll sprinkles each tale with small details that repeat with new relevance – car headlights appearing ominously in the dark, a shot dog, a hopeful hitchhiker shunned – but while everything snaps together, it’s all a bit too neat, the film’s final irony far too easy to guess (and far too coincidental).      Veteran actress Bruno Tedeschi is a convincing corpse and cold lover.  Ménochet (who has the same menacing looks as “Harry’s” Sergi López) gives no indication of his feelings for his wife while Calamy, the most likable character, at least shows concern for her husband.  Bonnard gives Joseph the creepy quality of a backwoods loner.  The camera loves newcomer Tereszkiewicz.  'Bibisse' N'Drin is a natural.

“Only the Animals” is a stylish, slick entertainment, but with deeper characterizations it would have had a stronger impact.

Robin's Review: C+

Cohen Media opens "Only the Animals" in theaters limited on 10/29/21, expanding in November.