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  Maelstrom What Does The Fish Say?
Year: 2000
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Stephanie Morgenstern, Pierre Lebeau, Kliment Denchev, Jean Dunn-Hill, Marc Gelinas, Bobby Beshro, Marie-France Lambert, Virginie Dubois, Daniel Turcot, Luis Oliva, Darrell Lloyd Tucler, Leo Arguello
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bibiane Champagne (Marie-Josée Croze) went for her first abortion today, and it all went very well with no problems, but it is what happens in the aftermath that supplies the hardship. On returning to work as an heiress to a clothing business fortune, for which she operates as a manager in some capacity, she is informed by her brother that she had bungled the finances and lost them a lot of money, and therefore her services will no longer be required. Not helping is the way her body has not gotten used to not being pregnant anymore, so she is still suffering morning sickness, but that is nothing compared to the anguish she is about to endure when she goes out to forget her troubles and has an accident on the way home...

Not that Bibiane suffers any physical injury, her car gets a little marked but that is about it, however we have seen the man she ran over has stumbled home and wound up passing away in his kitchen, sitting on a chair, leading to the newspaper headline that a man has died after being run over in his kitchen. That sums up the odd tone of Maelstrom, which was future blockbuster director Denis Villeneuve's second try at establishing himself as the bright new star of French-Canadian cinema; notoriously, he was so dissatisfied with these first two films that he walked away from the industry to bring up his kids, reasoning he was not ready to take on a film career when these were the results. This despite Maelstrom especially winning acclaim and awards.

Yet you can see what Villeneuve meant when you watch this, not that it is unenjoyable, as its off-kilter mood and frequent strangeness demonstrate it is not boring, but it was clear he had watched Krysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique a few too many times for his own good, and making his film in hues of blue instead of gold was not going to fool many audiences who had seen both. Also, Croze certainly had the look of the glacial arthouse heroine, but Villeneuve had failed to give her any personality, and though the role gave her career a boost, that was down to her dragging out as many distinguishing traits as she could out of a disappointingly bland character. Bibiane was too blatantly a cork bobbing along on the current of the director's whims rather than a woman with her own agency and opinions: all she really has is her guilt to keep her going.

The guilt over the abortion is swiftly transplanted to the hit and run death she has caused, but what she does with it is like something out of those "dark" sitcoms that appeared at the turn of the millennium and afterwards, and it does appear we were intended to find some of this amusing, if not hysterically hilarious. Basically, though she has got away with her crime, she insists on returning to it and after disposing of her car (and almost herself in the process) she befriends the son (Nicolas-Jean Verreault) of the victim, who turns out to have been involved in the fishing industry. It should be pointed out here there was a deliberately absurdist element in that the film was narrated by a succession of fish who have their heads chopped off by an infernal fishmonger, all of whom seem to have specialist philosophy they would like to impart had their heads not been separated from their bodies. As the cosmic coincidences mount up, including a major one that changes Bibi's life forever. With regular allusions to water, both cleansing and threatening, sex scenes for the sake of them (has she learned nothing?) and musing on connections in a possibly random universe, Maelstrom didn't lack for incident, give it that. Music by Pierre Desrochers.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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