Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Maelstrom is the story of a troubled woman who embarks on an affair with a young man whose father she accidentally killed in a hit-and-run. The film is a mixture of fantasy, comedy, and tragedy as it plays into a woman’s descent as he story is told by a fish that is voiced by Pierre Lebeau. Starring Marie-Josee Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verrault, and Stephanie Morgenstern. Maelstrom is an eerie yet ravishing film from Denis Villeneuve.

The film follows a troubled woman whose encounter with an old man she accidentally hit with his car that eventually lead to his death has her dealing with guilt where she would meet the man’s son whom she falls for. That is pretty much the entire premise of the film as it’s told by this mysterious fish that is being gutted and cut into pieces as it relates to this woman’s encounters with fishes throughout the course of the film including the man she would accidentally hit with her car. Denis Villeneuve’s screenplay does take a back-and-forth narrative in terms of the story that this fish is telling yet it is still straightforward in the way it follows the life of Bibiane Champagne (Marie-Josee Croze) who is the daughter of a famous figure as she runs three boutique shops.

Yet, Bibiane is dealing with an abortion she had as well as her own personal issues with substance abuse where a night-out would lead to this tragic encounter with a fishmonger who would die hours later in his home. The man’s son Evian (Jean-Nicolas Verrault) would arrive in the film’s third act to hear the news as his part in the narrative play into Bibiane’s chance to make amends but also deal with emotional tailspin she’s in.

Villeneuve’s direction is definitely odd in the way it opens as it would often include recurring images of wavy waters as well as fish. Shot largely on location in Montreal, Villeneuve plays into a world where this young woman is definitely lost as she spends much of her time going to clubs, drinking, and coping with the abortion she had as it play into her lack of direction. While Villeneuve would use some wide shots for some of the film’s location setting as well as in some key dramatic moments in the film. Much of his direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots as it play into Bibiane’s own despair along with her encounter with death and disappointment. Villeneuve’s usage of fish in the film also play into Bibiane’s world as there’s a scene where she and her friend Claire (Stephanie Morgenstern) are eating octopus where it doesn’t taste good as it would have some relevance to the film’s plot.

Villeneuve’s direction is also filled with these images that play into the idea of connection and faith where Bibiane and Evian would both have different encounters with a mysterious man (Marc Gelinas) whom they talk to as it play into the idea of fates and directions. Even as the fish that is narrating the film would talk about the decisions the characters would make as it also play into the way they see the world including the life of Bibiane. The scenes that involve the fish and the fishmonger (John Dunn-Hill) are presented in simple compositions yet it is one of these abstract moments in the film as it does play into what is happening in the main narrative. Overall, Villeneuve creates a riveting yet intoxicating film about a woman coping with loss and guilt.

Cinematographer Andre Turpin does brilliant work with the film’s slightly-tinted cinematography with its usage of heightened colors to play into the exteriors and interiors of the film as it help add a unique and grimy look that play into Bibiane’s view of the world. Editor Richard Comeau does excellent work with the editing as it does have some nice usage of jump-cuts and fade-outs as it help play into some of the intense dramatic moments in the film. Production designer Sylvain Gingras and set decorator Ginette Pare do fantastic work with the look of the boutique shops that Bibiane runs as well as her apartment and the place where the fishmonger is cutting up the fish. Costume designer Denis Sperdouklis does nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual to play into the personalities of the characters.

Special effects supervisor Louis Craig does terrific work with the animatronics for the way the fish talks during the scenes of narration as the fish is being gutted and cut-up for those small scenes. Sound editor Guy Pelletier does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of some of the film’s locations as well as the sounds of water that is prevalent throughout the film. The film’s music by Pierre Desrochers is wonderful for its low-key piano-based orchestral score that play into the drama as it appears in small moments while the soundtrack is offbeat for its usage of music by Charles Aznavour, Tom Waits, and a song from the musical Hair.

The casting by Lucie Robitaille is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Bobby Beshro as Bibiane’s older brother Philippe who runs the family business, Marc Gelinas as the stranger that Bibiane meets at a subway, John Dunn-Hill as the fishmonger, Kliment Denchev as Evian’s father Annstein Karlsen, and Pierre Lebeau in a superb role as the voice of the fish who narrates the film. Stephanie Morgenstern is fantastic as Bibiane’s best friend Claire who is trying to help Bibiane as she also tries to keep Bibiane away from drugs and alcohol. Jean-Nicolas Verrault is excellent as Evian as a diver who learns about his father’s death as he copes with not being able to perform his father’s final wishes while starting to be intrigued by Bibiane whom he would fall for. Finally, there’s Marie-Josee Croze in an incredible performance as Bibiane Champagne as a troubled woman who is dealing with the aftermath of an abortion and later killing a man accidentally with her car as it is this haunting and anguished performance that play into loss and guilt as it is a career-defining performance from Croze.

Maelstrom is a remarkable film from Denis Villeneuve that features a great leading performance from Marie-Josee Croze. Along with its offbeat premise, character study of grief and guilt, eerie visuals, and a strong supporting cast. The film is a strange yet intriguing film that plays into a woman’s guilt over her actions and lack of direction as it is told through ideas of surrealism. In the end, Maelstrom is an incredible film from Denis Villeneuve.

Denis Villeneuve Films: August 32nd on Earth - PolytechniqueIncendies - Prisoners (2013 film) - Enemy - Sicario - Arrival (2016 film) - Blade Runner 2049 - Dune-Part One (2021 film) - Dune-Part Two - (Dune: Messiah) - The Auteurs #68: Denis Villeneuve

© thevoid99 2018


Brittani Burnham said...

This seems really out there, but I've enjoyed all of Villenueve's work so far. I'd check this out.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-The plot is simple but it does have moments that are out there. There's still some shorts and one more feature film from Villeneuve that I need to watch as I have yet to be disappointed by anything he does.