Wednesday, February 28, 2024

French Rendez-Vous ’24: The Animal Kingdom

Fantasy often tells us mankind is the most dangerous animal. If you think that changes when a mysterious phenomenon starts mutating the afflicted into physically powerful human-animal hybrids, you could not be more wrong. Homo-sapiens are still the most dangerous creatures, due to our aggression, fear, and prejudice, a point that is repeatedly emphasized in Thomas Cailley’s The Animal Kingdom, the opening night film of this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, in New York.

As the film opens, Emile Marindaze is distressed by the sight of a bird-man struggling with paramedics amid cars stuck in traffic. His alarm seems natural, but viewers soon learn his reaction is more personal and visceral. It turns out his mother has also been stricken with the strange animal mutating disease, which carries a severe stigma among the uninfected.

His father François has arranged for them to temporarily relocate to a resort village, so they can be close to her in the newly constructed high-security treatment center. Of course, they want to keep her condition on the down-low, so they pretend they are simply in town for dad’s new job as a chef at a waterfront bistro. It becomes harder when the initial shipment of patient/inmates (including Madame Marindaze) escapes in a traffic accident. Emile regularly drags Emile out to the forest to search for his mother, while the surly teen is trying to hide his own early onset of animal mutation symptoms.

So, deep down, we’re all animals. The end. There is a legit point in there, which someone like Rod Serling could have made brilliantly in just under thirty minutes. In contrast, Cailley drags out this morality play—but to his credit, he reportedly cut an epilogue after
Animal Kingdom premiered at Cannes.

That is the storytelling. On the other hand, the filmmaking that went into
Animal Kingdom is often pretty impressive. Cailley’s brand of contemporary fantasy is eerily realistic looking. In some ways, Animal Kingdom almost functions as Cronenbergian body-horror, but the mutations are vividly lifelike and painful looking.

Romain Duris is also terrific (as usual) as the increasingly desperate and out of his depth father. It is hard enough dealing with the regular husband and dad stuff. The challenges he must face are pretty extreme. He also develops some intriguingly ambiguous chemistry with Adele Exarchopoulos, playing Julia Izquierdo, a local cop, who resents finding herself suddenly subordinate to the arrogant national police. However, Paul Kircher’s Emile is so petulant, irresponsible, and reckless, he almost single-handedly undermines Cailley’s message of tolerance and acceptance. Yet, it must be conceded, he definitely acts like a teenager.

The immersive vision of Cailley’s post-animal outbreak world feels only too believable, especially for anyone who spent a significant period of time awake during the last four years. The social speculation is compelling, but the inconsistent drama often feels excessively protracted. The results are mixed, but Duris’s performance, along with the visual and makeup effects earn
The Animal Kingdom is recommendation for fans of fantastical realism, when it opens this year’s French Rendez-Vous tomorrow night (2/29) and subsequently releases in theaters next month (3/15).