Chloe Walker, Marketing Manager at Phoenix Picturehouse, introduces this week’s Discover Tuesdays title Evolution.
Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic.
Starring: Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Max Brebant. France/Belgium/Spain 2015. TBC mins. French with English subtitles.
10-year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant) lives on a remote island populated solely by young mothers and their pre-pubescent sons. Despite the fact that he seems healthy, his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) informs him that he is in fact gravely ill, and so each day she feeds him a disgusting green concoction that she refers to as ‘medicine’. Each night she joins the island’s other mothers on the beach for a bizarre and mysterious ritual. Before long, Nicolas is sent to hospital, where one of the nurses (Roxane Duran) might finally be the person who can help him discover what’s going on.
Some critics have referred to Lucile Hadzilhalilovic’s first feature in 12 years as a horror film. It’s not hard to see where this has come from: much of the imagery and the physical effects exhibited here would make David Cronenberg jealous. There is an underlying creepiness penetrating everything, from the photography to the eerily similar-looking, androgynous women who are both mothers and nurses.
Whilst there is an undeniable sense of unease surrounding everything, tonally Evolution is more intriguing than frightening. It presents you with an ever-growing list of questions (What’s going on at the beach? Where are the men and the daughters? What, if anything, is wrong with Nicolas?), the answers to which aren’t exactly forthcoming. In the hands of a lesser writer-director, this could have been frustrating. But throughout the film, Hadzilhalilovic drops enough clues to never let the mounting sense of intrigue turn to irritation; the final shot in particular will provoke a lot of discussion. In addition, at 84 minutes, it never even comes close to overstaying its welcome.
The mysteries of the plot are not the only things that make Evolution a masterpiece. Manuel Dacosse’s cinematography throughout is stunning – this is a film you’ll be glad to have watched on the big screen. The opening sequence, one of many set underwater, is transcendentally beautiful as we watch the sunlight hitting the depths of that omnipresent sea and the camera stalks along. Even in the drab and dingy corridors of the hospital that Nicolas is eventually confined to, Dacosse finds a twisted, macabre sort of beauty, enhanced by Hadzilhalilovic’s portentous use of symbolism.
Ultimately, Evolution is a visually majestic and thematically absorbing puzzle of a film, which is a pleasure to try to solve. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another decade for Hadzilhalilovic’s next outing.
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