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Carré Blanc | Review

A French Orwellian Dystopia

The directorial debut of Jean-Baptiste Leonetti, Carre Blanc, is yet another stark portrayal of a dystopian existence, somewhere in the near future in an unnamed French city. While the film quickly establishes an oddly humorous yet ominous and foreboding tone, one can’t help but be distracted by notable similarities to other films. But despite this and the distance we feel from our alienated characters doesn’t stop this from being an intriguing and notable debut, if not altogether masterful.

The film opens with an omniscient narrator relating a strange tale involving the death of a mama polar bear and the abandonment of her poor bear cub alone in the dangerous wild to survive. We are the introduced to a gray, metallic world where loudspeakers make proclamations all day long about the importance of croquet and procreation. Then we watch as the distraught mother of a young boy ends her life, ominously telling her son that he will have to learn to pretend and play the game, employing the tale of the polar, though its meaning is still unclear to us.

The young boy, Philippe, is brought to a state-run school where he tries to commit suicide but is saved by a young girl, Marie. As he grows in the institution, he learns how to play the game, basically a bizarre survival skill set. Fast forward to his adulthood where Philippe (Sami Bouajila) works for a nameless company that puts potential employees through bizarre, deadly, and humiliating tests, sometimes resulting in death. His marriage to Marie (Julie Gayet) is crumbling and Philippe seems to be slowly awakening from the brainwashed existence he’s been raised in. The dead are used as food, people have stopped procreating or hide their children, and safety nets surround all the buildings to prevent the rampant suicide attempts. It is indeed a dystopia that is indeed bleak, surreal and hopeless.

Perhaps the biggest detractions of Carre Blanc are it’s similarities to other cinematic dystopia classics. As a narrative, one can’t help but recall 1984 (1984) and Soylent Green (1973), stylistically a little Alphaville (1965), and thematically various works by Tarkovsky and even Kafka. But even though Carre Blanc has all this baggage to contend with in a well tread genre, it does manage to be a compelling piece of consumer nihilism, and definitely accomplishes in sobering one’s mood. While we feel alienated from our protagonists and might even wonder why they don’t find a way to just end their lives, it’s a testament to the great performances of Bouakila and Gayet that we manage to feel anything at all for them. And darkest of all is how Marie keeps seeing monsters. As the camera pans to what she sees, we simply see human beings. We’re all monsters devouring one another, playing the game. For some pretty difficult material, Leonetti has a decent debut on his hands and is definitely a filmmaker to follow.

Reviewed on September 14 at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – VANGUARD Programme.

80 Mins.

Rating 3 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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