Review: The Animal Kingdom
- CANNES 2023: Thomas Cailley masterfully succeeds in crafting a risky film blending the fantastical and modern-day reality, which is both gripping and in many ways like a parable
“These mutations, they’re a recent and complex phenomenon.” In his feature debut, Love at First Fight [+see also:
interview: Thomas Cailley
film profile], which was a hit in the Directors’ Fortnight back in 2014, French filmmaker Thomas Cailley already dared to venture off the beaten track, immersing a couple of spokespeople for a young generation worried about the future of the planet deep in a forest. This existentialist and environmental breeding ground also serves as the one for his new film, the thrilling The Animal Kingdom [+see also:
interview: Thomas Cailley
film profile], which has opened the Un Certain Regard programme at the 76th Cannes Film Festival.
However, this time around, the bar has been set far higher, in a space not often portrayed in French or European cinema, on the blurry boundary between fantasy and realism. It’s a perilous area of hybrid genres, which the film traverses with a joyful vibrancy, through vast, wild forests, and with top-notch special effects, not to mention a good dose of humour and a multitude of underlying metaphors for those who will not settle for a simple good time at the cinema.
Creatures? Monsters? Bugs? Defining a human being has become far more difficult over the last two years all over the world, especially for François (Romain Duris) and his 16-year-old son Émile (Paul Kircher). Indeed, while absolutely nothing else has changed in society as regards our current day-to-day life, a series of mutations are occurring, transforming humans into animals, which is not safe, to say the least. And Lana, François’ wife and Émile’s mother, has turned into one of these hybrids. Locked up and on medication, she is about to be transferred, along with some other fellow sufferers, to a centre in Southern France, at the heart of the Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park. Dragging along his teenage son, who is not keen to come, as he’s more interested in the usual preoccupations of his age group, François follows the transfer and moves there himself. But once there, an accident takes place, the mutants escape, and the chef father and his secondary-school-aged son are plunged into some highly unpredictable adventures that will put a question mark over their relationship…
“Is this war or not?” In a thick forest dotted with streams and lagoons, a land replete with sound and greenery that the military patrols are attempting to lock down, it’s the key topics of difference and freedom that the film subtly broaches beneath its exciting outer layer of frantic action and unexpected encounters with mind-boggling beings that are gradually returning to their natural state. This central theme is developed through triangulation and concentric circles that resonate with the youth’s emancipation from the extreme overprotection of their elders, while the latter, for their part, become aware of the need to turn words into actions, and the necessity to strive to reconcile things that, at first glance, are not alike, but which are actually part of one, overarching natural world.
It’s a huge, far-reaching message that Thomas Cailley conveys in a highly appealing and technically accomplished movie, which fulfils its lofty ambitions and which will please all audiences as they follow its two empathetic lead actors, backed up perfectly by Adèle Exarchopoulos, Billie Blain and Tom Mercier. In the end, it’s a feature that’s perfectly in sync with those lines by René Char, distilled into the very beginning of its thunderous opening: "That which comes into the world not to upset anything deserves neither respect nor patience."
(Translated from French)
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