Wednesday, February 10, 2016

MyFFF ’16: Heatwave

Heat kills. Just ask Camus’s Meursault. It’s not great for crops either. An unseasonable warm spell will set in motion a chain of events that culminates in murder. However, the developmentally challenged Josef Bousou maybe had it coming—or perhaps the good villagers deliberately misinterpreted his aggressively boorish behavior. He certainly winds up dead, as we can tell from the in media res opening. How he got that way will be revealed in the long flashback that forms the core of Raphaël Jacoulot’s Heatwave (trailer here), which currently streams as part of the 2016 My French Film Festival.

The thirty year-old Josef seems to have an elementary school child’s understanding of life, as well as an equivalent capacity for mischief. Madame Bousou often gets complaints regarding petty thefts and blasting loud music, but she steadfastly ignores them all. The ever-indulgent Mayor Daniel Huot-Marchand often runs interference for the Bousous, but Josef’s latest exploits will test his patience.

To help the village’s smaller farmers survive the drought, Huot-Marchand and the council approved the creation of a mechanized communal well station. Yet, in an apparently cruel act of sabotage, the pump is stolen and the key to the service shed is found on Bousou’s person. With sentiment already running against him, the easily manipulated hulking child sexually accosts a village elder. Of course, after a day or two of observations, Bousou returns home to his not-sufficiently-concerned family. When Bousou’s teenaged crush makes similar but more dubious charges against him, things really start to get ugly.

Frankly, Jacoulot’s weird attempt to switch gears in last twenty minutes never really works, because of how assiduously he has stacked the deck against Bousou in the preceding hour-plus. Despite everything that comes to light, it is hard to blame the Mayor for requesting professional intervention when Bousou haltingly forces himself on the old lady. Seriously, that is a totally fair deal-breaker, even if it technically never escalates to the point of legal criminality. As a practical matter, Bousou is cast as such an obnoxious trouble-maker, Jacoulot has no accrued sympathy to draw on when he makes his late pivot.

Still, it is sort of fascinating to watch Heatwave play out as a sort of perverse passion play. Karim Leklou is completely convincing as the socially underdeveloped Bousou—perhaps even too much so. As usual, the ever-dependable Jean-Pierre Darroussin brings the film instant salt-of-the-earth credibility as the conflicted Huot-Marchand. It is easy to understand why people vote for him, especially compared to the preening ideologue New Yorkers are currently stuck with.

Heatwave does not come together the way it is supposed to, but it is still weirdly compelling to view it unspooling. It ultimately works towards a conclusion that feels unfairly arbitrary, but Camus probably would have appreciated that. Jacoulot arguably loses control of the picture, but at least that makes it interesting. The price is also reasonable, considering it streams for a mere $2.20 as part of this year’s online My French Film Festival, concluding next Thursday (2/18).