Review: The Successor
- French director Xavier Legrand stresses that Father's Day is not exactly his favourite celebration with this brutal yet elegant film
In the Spanish film The City of No Limits [+see also:
film profile], Leonardo Sbaraglia was stunned to discover that his elderly, ailing father had jealously been hiding an intense and surprising secret from the past. In the British film We Need to Talk About Kevin [+see also:
interview: Lynne Ramsay
film profile], Tilda Swinton had to come to terms with the painful consequences of being related to somebody capable of doing terrible things. The Successor [+see also:
interview: Xavier Legrand
film profile], the second feature film by French director Xavier Legrand, taking part in the official competition section of the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival, also contains these themes, but the effect on the main character (after whom the film is named) go even further than in the other films mentioned.
From the opening scene of The Successor - depicting a dazzling fashion show - the audience perceives that this is not a conventional film: the staging, the rhythm and the music start ringing alarm bells that something murky, tragic and disturbing will be coming after such a spectacle of beauty, glitter and sophistication. And that is indeed what happens.
Based on the novel L'Ascendant, by Alexandre Postel, Legrand introduces Ellias Barnès (played by Canadian actor Marc André Grondin), a talented designer at a top Parisian fashion house who has just taken over as director of the firm. While posing for the cover of a magazine that will sing his praises as a modern genius and achiever, he is given the news that his father has died and he must go to his native Montreal - which he left behind a long time ago - to bury him and take over his belonging - and his poisoned inheritance).
So, in the transition from getting out of the car at one airport, through to getting into another car on a different continent (a moment filmed in a simple and brilliant shot), Ellias goes from the glitz, glamour and fantasy of the world he has fought for and built up with his most brilliant qualities to the hell he left behind, pushed away by his lousy relationship with his father.
Legrand follows this man's story from the peak of his career to the abyss of most atrocious dehumanisation imaginable. In his award-winning début feature film, Custody [+see also:
interview: Xavier Legrand
film profile], the film-maker already portrayed dark family toxicity embodied by a violent, angry and possessive monster, and this new film goes even further, leaving the audience curled up in their seats with one of the most shocking and tense stories on offer to the public this season.
The panic we feel at the high probability of inheriting the worst traits from our relatives, the perpetuation of evil, that damned past that comes back so strongly (even though we try to forget), the psychopathic malice that crosses even the boundaries of death and guilty fatalism fill this film with bad vibes, with a stylised and cold staging and a tense atmosphere (almost a horror film), that makes clever use of out-of-field and sound. Another Xavier Legrand nightmare on the most horrendous family shadows.
(Translated from Spanish)
Photogallery 27/09/2023: San Sebastián 2023 - The Successor
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