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  Evolution The Experimental Stage
Year: 2015
Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Stars: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfield, Nissim Renard, Pablo-Noé Etienne, Nathalie Legosles, Chantal Aimée, Laura Ballasteros, Eric Batlle, Mafer Blanco, Anna Broock, Celestino Chacon, Annie Enganalim, Silvia Ferre
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nicolas (Max Brebant) lives in an island village by the sea, which gives him the opportunity to swim whenever he likes, as he does today, enjoying the sights of the underwater life, or he does until he realises he has just caught sight of the dead body of another boy lying on a rock beneath the surface with a starfish on his chest. Nicolas panics and swims for shore, runs to the house he shares with his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) and breathlessly tells her all about what he’s witnessed, but she doesn't seem that interested, calming him down and fobbing him off with bland explanations. Besides, his dinner of grey worms is ready, though what if this wasn't his mother after all? What if this woman was an impostor?

Well, that came out of the blue, but then so does quite a lot in Evolution, director Lucile Hadzihalilovic's follow-up to her mildly controversial fable Innocence from over ten years before. In some ways she had simply swapped the gender of the young girls in that film for young boys, and instead of a lush forest we were now invited to a picturesque location by the ocean, but more than that as before was the sheer enigma of the whole enterprise, lending the story the logic of a dream, or in some cases a nightmare. There was beauty in some of the imagery, mostly the business under the water, but for the most part the not knowing what was actually going on bred a sinister atmosphere.

If you wanted a story that made sense and was perfectly explicable from scene one to the very end, you were not going to get it here, though the director did seem to have a handle on proceedings that indicated she knew what was happening more than anyone else did, which might have been taking personal filmmaking to its logical extreme, short of making an entire feature out of your own home movies, or stream of consciousness poetry for that matter. There were dark undercurrents to what Nicolas, who appears to be about ten years old, experiences which gradually rise to the surface as the subject of unnecessary surgery arises: the sole inhabitants of this place are those young boys and the severe-looking women in medical guise who take care of them.

Are these ladies their actual mothers? We suspect not, for few mothers would want to perform the procedures on their sons that these do, even though what they get up to was probably the key to Hadzihalilovic's drive to unnerve the audience. This was such an authored work that you had the impression she was making it through some personal issues, but essentially it was a gender switch on the female unease of what their bodies go through for the sake of reproduction, whether they want it or not, be that puberty or the actual process of childbirth. That's what the mystery ladies are getting up to: impregnating these boys to make foetuses in a slap in the face to natural biology, as if the director was making the men watching uncomfortable by placing them in the roles that the women would traditionally be set in.

Yet not every one of these medical staff the boys have to live with are coldly dispassionate, even evil, for Nicolas has the power to create himself without any procedures, only he creates art by drawning. The intriguing thing is that he draws pictures of things that are not on the island, such as a Ferris wheel: no such thing to be seen there, not even a swing park as the sea remains their chief form of entertainment, all of which suggests Nicolas had a life before he arrived on the island. This of course throws up all sorts of other questions, like is the woman with the curly red hair he draws his real mother? But also can he escape what could be doing him and his peers a lot of damage for reasons unclear? This was where the nice nurse came in handy, Stella (Roxane Duran), who is inspired by the boy's abilities and sees if he can do this he doesn't need to make babies in this bastardised fashion. Even so, Evolution very deliberately, almost too deliberately, ends up in a place which will doubtless leave most viewers none the wiser. Music by Jesús Diaz and Zacarías M. de la Riva.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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