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Domain | Review

A Walk to Remember: Beatrice Dalle is Shameless in Custom-designed Role

Patric Chiha Domain Beatrice Dalle PosterEvery once in a while, a young filmmaker creates a deliciously intelligent film that hits all the right notes. Director Patric Chiha has done so with his second feature length film, Domain, a subtle and transfixing drama which he wrote as a vehicle for one of the most daunting and formidable actresses in cinema, Beatrice Dalle. Luckily for us, he snagged her for the role, and for fans of sophisticated strangeness, this should definitely be a sought after title for her fans.

Opening over a night time bonfire on the beach, we meet Nadia (Dalle), a fun loving but pretentious mathematician as she entertains her friends while her seventeen year old nephew Pierre (Isaie Sultan) eagerly looks on. Between snippets of conversation related to sex, dancing, and age, Nadia reveals what it is about her chosen profession she so loves, namely that she would be like liquid without a container if not for the “order without words” of mathematics. In her mind, words equal disorder, and they have no rhythm. While perhaps many a poet would disagree, Nadia applies this logic to every activity, including walking, a luxury she shares very frequently with Pierre, himself just beginning to act on his own burgeoning homosexuality. Like many a young gay man, he’s utterly fascinated with his aunt, a bitchy, brilliant, headstrong force of nature. While Pierre’s mother frowns upon his time spent with Nadia because of Nadia’s purported drinking problems, the two grow inextricably closer. As Nadia escorts Pierre between gay bars and drunken interludes in her apartment, their relationship is tested by a love interest of Pierre’s. It’s not long before it’s clear that his aunt is out of control, and Pierre slowly comes to the realization that she needs help.

Domain is clearly a film about chaos versus control, order versus disorder. With a first half punctuated by precise demarcations of the passage of time between scenes, the film’s order gives way as Nadia loses hers. Certainly, the repetitive references to Austrian mathematician Kurt Godel in the film’s opening sequence is a clue of what’s to come, as above all, Godel is best known for two theorems of incompleteness. Just as Dalle’s Nadia eagerly name drops Godel and Einstein as she moons over how mathematics is how we organize the world, she fails to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship of numbers and words, to her own detriment.

Chiha’s film is clearly a vehicle whose success depends entirely upon the icy ruthlessness of Beatrice Dalle. Her penetrating gaze, her judgmental dismissals, her brazen predilection for walking through the gay cruising areas in her favorite parks, all mark her as an indomitable presence that engulfs not only us, but her nephew as well. Pierre’s romance with a twenty six year old passenger that frequents the same bus route happens mostly off screen, but when he introduces Fabrice to his aunt, she ignores him and appears to be jealous of her nephew’s relationship with another being. And it’s here, in a pair of dimly lit and smoke filled nightclub scenes that create an intoxicating mix of visuals and pulsating. While an androgynous performer known as Joan Crawford performs (when Pierre asks who Joan Crawford was, the response he’s given is that she was “an actress with a wonderful gait”) the whole dance floor moves in slow motion. In the foreground we see Pierre and Fabrice, while the image of Nadia’s seductive head seems as if it’s drifting farther and farther away from them—an arthouse feast of the senses.

While Domain slows down considerably when Nadia and Pierre’s relationship falls apart, and Nadia retreats to the domain of a rehab center in Austria, a haunting reversal changes her thoughts on organization. “My words are dead and crumble beneath me,” she moans to her visiting nephew. Just beyond the surface of Nadia’s supposed order are her words, and once she realizes that she doesn’t have any, she sees no order, only chaos. For a film about numbers, among many things, Patric Chiha has created a poetic film featuring one of the most alluring women working in film.

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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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