Boris Without Béatrice
Boris without Beatrice
Two solid Competition entries today bring with them a whiff of the surreal or outright supernatural to a festival known more for hard-hitting realist dramas.
In the Quebec-set modern fable Boris Without Béatrice, the vanity and moral disorientation of today’s alpha male are put to the test.
Protagonist Boris Malinovsky is what you would consider a successful guy – he runs his own business, maintains an athletic physique, dresses tastefully, is popular with the ladies, etc. But Boris isn’t necessarily what you would call a nice guy – he’s prone to anger, never visits his mother at the senior home, cheats on his wife Béatrice habitually and neglects his teenage daughter. From the way he treats those around him, one detects an air of unspoken condescension right beneath the civil, expensively kept surface.
When Béatrice falls ill and sinks inexplicably into a speechless stupor, Boris doesn’t seem too devastated and continues to amuse himself with flings left and right. Until one day, he receives a mysterious invitation and meets someone who’ll compel him to re-think his ways.
As with his Berlinale-winner Vic+Flo Saw a Bear, Canadian auteur Denis Côté shows an uncanny knack for distilling the absurd and disturbing out of everyday situations. With a lush visual language and some psychedelic club beats that give key scenes an eerie, Lynchian ceremoniousness, he keeps you on your toes about where the story’s headed and the general trustworthiness of the narrative. By ending scenes where you don’t expect them to, a curious cadence is added to the proceedings that strengthens a dreamy, jaggedly subjective impression.
In an especially memorable moment towards the end of the film, where Boris opens a door with shock on his face and bewilderment in his voice to what’s not immediately revealed, the layers of Côté’s deceptively plain story and the economy of his hands really shine.
The principal cast is strong, in particular the reliably creepy Denis Lavant as the inscrutable, philosophising messenger/judge/ally. Playing Boris, James Hyndman shouldn’t be ruled out as a Silver Bear contender for his contained but finely textured performance. It’s no easy task interpreting a character that’s relatable yet despicable, someone who’s supposed to be the villain of a morality tale but remains so human you only gradually pick up on his sins. That he pulled off famously.
Also commendable is the cast of Midnight Special, who, admittedly, don’t have as much to work with in terms of character-building. But in a story as far-fetched as this, it takes a tremendous amount of screen presence to keep things grounded. The always watchable Michael Shannon, along with an equally winsome Joel Edgerton, a convincingly glammed-down Kirsten Dunst and, at their centre, a soulful Jaeden Lieberher, delivered just that.
Without giving too much away: the sci-fi drama is essentially set around the hunt for a child. We know that 9-year-old Alton (Lieberher) grew up on a ranch in Texas, that he’s been on the run with his father (Shannon) for a few days, and now both the folks from back home and the US national security desperately want to track him down.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols serves up a story that’s less than ambitious but remarkably well executed. After many promising, sinister plot points and characters fall by the wayside (including a nutty Sam Shepard we want to see more of), the actual movie turns out pretty straightforward – which might disappoint those expecting some fanatical, conspiratorial scheme or a more explosive reveal.
That said, Nichols tells this thing like nobody’s business. Starting in the middle of the manhunt, all characters hit the ground running and a pressing atmosphere of End Days hysteria permeates the screen from frame one. Meanwhile, the highly skilled editing keeps the guessing game and the breathless tempo alive, hammering out one great chase sequence after another.
Visually speaking, the – up to its last act – modest, efficient use of special effects produces notably impactful results, exemplified by a scene at the gas station where the situation changes as quickly as it does drastically. And all that is helped further by an intense score, whose electric tremble aptly describes an unknown threat.
Having previously given us the suspenseful Take Shelter and the hearty Mud, Nichols’ latest is not only a thematic splice of sorts, but probably also his most mainstream effort yet. It may not be what a high-minded festival jury is looking for but that never stopped any film from being an enjoyable ride.
Boris Without Béatrice | Feb 13, 15:00, Friedrichstadt Palast, 19:00, Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Feb 15, 12:30 Haus der Berliner Festspiele, 21:30, ACUDKino, Feb 21, 17:00, Friedrichstadtpalast
Midnight Special | Feb 13, 21:30, Haus der Berliner Festspiele