Only The Animals surprised me. This remarkably well-constructed French mystery-thriller is three stories in one.
Alice Farange (Laure Calamy) is in a loveless marriage in rural France. She’s having an affair with a strange loner named Joseph Bonnefille (Damien Bonnard), who barely tolerates her. Then Bonnefille seemingly callously ditches her giving no reason. There’s a lot more to this story than at first meets the eye, and in more ways than one.
A pretty young waitress, Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), falls for a visiting woman at least 20 years her senior, Evelyne Ducat (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). The pair can’t keep their hands off one another, but then Ducat up and leaves. She’s married, but her husband is often absent. Marion tracks her down. The result though isn’t what she expected.
Armand (Guy Roger ‘Bibisse’ N’Drin) is a young guy – with an interesting back story – living in relative squalour in Africa. He dreams of making it big. He and his mates are scammers. They steal others’ identities to lure in unsuspecting victims. On this occasion, Armand assumes Marion’s identity and attracts the attention of Alice Farange’s husband, Michel (Denis Menochet), with disastrous consequences.
For the first 40 minutes I was convinced I was watching a rather bizarre story about a strange guy and a couple who were having issues. The next 20 minutes or so concerned unrequited love and then came the shock of cyber-crime from afar. Wow! What an unlikely combination of factors to bring together.
Director Dominik Moll, who wrote the script with Gilles Marchand, from a book by Colin Niel, faced a heck of a job trying to pull this off … yet he has. Only The Animals has been very cleverly assembled, so audience engagement increases the longer the film progresses. It could have become a bridge too far but I felt it never crossed the line, some outlandish scenes notwithstanding. By the third act, I was totally absorbed. In time, we come to learn that all relates back to that first act, so watch closely and see if you can pick up any clues.
Only the Animals is a rich, original work that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.