The Endless River, beyond pain
by Bénédicte Prot
- VENICE 2015: In the third film by South-African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus, in competition at Venice, French actor Nicolas Duvauchelle portrays the incommunicable violence of this country
At the 72nd Venice Film Festival, where this year French film is making a good impression according to festival-goers, France is also represented in the official competition by a more controversial film: The Endless River [+see also:
film profile] by Oliver Hermanus, a South African story co-produced by Parisian company Swift Productions in which Frenchman Nicolas Duvauchelle gives a powerful performance in a harrowing role that calls for his physicality and intense gaze. In this film, the actor, who is known for his work with Claire Denis, Xavier Giannoli (who is also in competition this year with the formidable Marguerite [+see also:
interview: Xavier Giannoli
film profile]) most notably in Eager Bodies, or more recently, Poliss [+see also:
film profile], was given the task of conveying the most unbearable pain. Indeed his character, Gilles, an ‘expat’ who has settled down among the vineyards of a small town not far from Cape Town, falls victim to the full force of the ubiquitous and apparently uncontrollable violence that characterises the land of extremes that is South Africa. One evening, whilst he’s not at home, his wife and two young children are massacred, suffering an excruciating death, by three men belonging to a gang, probably as part of an inititation, as is suggested by the husband of Tiny (Crystal-Donna Roberts), a waitress who Gilles sometimes sees in a local cafeteria.
The undeserving husband of this quietly brave and pretty little woman knows something, which makes sense as he has just finished serving a prison sentence for his actions as part of the same gang… In the blink of an eye, as Gilles demands that the chief of the local police force give him answers, instead of letting the crime go unpunished, with obvious apathy, when Gilles feels such a profound need for justice, the devastated father and husband arrives at the conclusion that the person responsible for this unspeakable crime is none other than Tiny’s husband. Then, all of a sudden, the latter is found dead, murdered near Gilles’ farm. In a strange and yet natural way, the stranger who has lost everything and the young indigenous woman who has never had anything move forward together, side by side, silently uniting their solitudes, which go deeper than blame, in this incommunicable pain which will, from that moment on, always be a part of each of them.
Hermanus portrays their shared and parallel and journeys through remarkably composed shots, with powerfully suggestive cinematography that is at times sombre, at others blinding (the work of Chris Lotz), carefully avoiding giving an answer that doesn’t exist through an all too easy epiphany that you can’t help but desire but fear won’t happen. This violence that the film exposes both its characters and the viewer to, the violence of indecision, is a part of this country, this land that will remain forever arid even in the pouring rain.
(Translated from French)