Wednesday 22 May 2024

Cannes 2024 - Misericordia by Alain Giraudie

Alain Guiraudie took the festival by storm in 2013 with his Stranger by the Lake shown at Un Certain Regard yet his following films failed to make as much as an impact, even when he was upgraded to the competition for his Restez Vertical (2015).

His latest offering, Misericordia, is a return to form with a work that is deceptively low-key yet captivating, blending elements of psychological drama and subtle surrealism, with more depth than it first appears. Within its setting of a seemingly tranquil and unremarkable village, Guiraudie meticulously constructs a web of carnal desires, slowly revealing the hidden emotions of the characters under their jovial facades, with a slow pace of life punctuated by many social visits invariably involving an aperitif. 

At the heart of the narrative is Jérémie (Félix Kyzyl), a character whose quiet demeanour and introspection hide some conflicted, enigmatic motivations as an outsider who overstays his welcome. Through Jérémie's interactions with the villagers, he unwittingly exposes their own secret longings or act as their catalyst, sometimes painfully so.

The characters spend a lot of time wandering in the the dense, atmospheric woods that surround the village, with the wonderful cinematography of Claire Mathon capturing the autumnal beauty of the natural landscape infusing them with a touch of unease and mystery, the place of many random (or not so random) encounters where the social rules of the village no longer seem to apply, where emotions of all sorts are laid bare and the more dramatic narrative developments happen.

While a bit more subdued than some of his previous films, Alain Guiraudie cannot resist a bit of provocation with a hilariously graphic scene that is also his way of representing the kind of characters and bodies seldom seen in cinema. He also adds some perfectly judged touches of the idiosyncratic humour he has accustomed us with in his previous films.

The performances in Misericorida are uniformly compelling, with the cast delivering nuanced portrayals that bring Guiraudie's characters to vivid life. Each actor imbues their role with an authenticity that is often difficult to find in French cinema when representing rural life, with the standout Catherine Frot as a newly widowed woman whose loyalty to her own family gets in the way of her yearning for Jéremie and the actress is able to convey her loneliness and conflicted emotions with much subtlety. 

An understated, compelling psychological study, Misericordia is the sort of singular films only Alain Guiraudie can make. 

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Official Selection, Cannes Premiere.

Misericordia. Directed by Alain Guiraudie. Starring Félix Kyzyl, Catherine Frot...

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