The three sisters, Sophie (Emmanuelle Béart), Celine (Karin Viard) and Anne (Marie Gillain) have drifted apart since a traumatic childhood incident involving their father. Sophie, the eldest, is married with young children, but suspects her photographer husband of having an affair. Youngest sister Anne is a student involved in a messy relationship with a married professor. And middle sister Celine, lives a joyless life frequently visiting her invalid mother (Carole Bouquet) on long train rides to the nursing home. When an intense young man (Guillaume Canet) takes an interest in her, she little suspects the true motive behind his approaches, which turns out to have a dramatic impact on her whole family.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
L'Enfer means hell, of course, and the award winning Danis Tanovic (for his terrific drama, No Man's Land) tries hard to show us how these lives are so damaged by a single incident in the past that all those who survived it live in state close to hell on earth, at least emotionally and spiritually. Coming from the original concept for a trilogy of films by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski (Heaven, starring Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi being another, directed by Tom Tykwer), L'Enfer plunges us into the misery of these lives after an opening credits sequence featuring kaleidoscopic effects - a device also used in the closing titles. The inference of life changing before our eyes depending on how we view it is inescapable, and it makes a playful symbolic feature of a dark secret buried in the film's story.
This dark secret is not the one we see early one, involving the father of the three sisters around whom the story revolves, and a young boy. The secret that matters is revealed later, and it reveals that not four but five lives have been ruined (in various ways) by a truth unspoken. A lie in fact, and one that turns our emotional associations with all the characters upside down.
It may be a fascinating exercise, but as a film it borders on the irritating for more than half its running time, since we are given no handrail to grasp as we stumble down the stairs of this suffering trio. Even the mother has gone dumb, having to write down what she has to say on the few occasions we meet her. Yes, the performances are great (although why Tanovic cast the wonderful Carole Bouquet as a grey haired grandmother in wretched make up is a mystery) and the stylish direction creative. Perhaps a tad too consciously arthouse for my taste, but nevertheless full of angles, shadows, textures and fine editing. Still, the dramatic punches come too late to make the film fully satisfying or as moving as it should be.
Review by Louise Keller:
There are many intricate strands woven by director Danis Tanovic in this mesmerising but often frustrating drama. Life for all the characters in L'Enfer is as complex as the multi-faceted kaleidoscope, and our journey is equally complex. A skilful director, Tanovic makes us work hard to make sense of it all, as we piece together the jigsaw of the emotional angst experienced by four women. The characters fascinate yet confuse. Surprisingly, the film keeps us at arms length. On reflection, I enjoyed the film more after it had finished, when I could dip back into this claustrophobic world and relive the unfolding of events in my mind.
Watch carefully as one of the first two scenes showing a newly hatched chick nudging unhatched siblings out of the nest offers clues. Clues to the subtext scriptwriters Krzysztof Piesiewicz and the late Krzysztof Kieslowsk offer in this second film of their trilogy about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. (The first film - Heaven - was directed by Run Lola Run's Tom Tykwer.) If there is fire in hell, the heat from the film's fire is internal. All the characters are going through hell, but like a kaleidoscope, they are all drawn to the light. There are some wonderful touches such as the topics for reading material that Celine reads aloud to her mute, wheel-chair bound mother, from the Guiness Book of Records, involving cannibals or headless chickens. Then there is the delightful unspoken relationship between Celine and the train ticket inspector who admires her silently, as she sleeps to the rhythms of the train.
The performances are all excellent - Emmanuelle Beart's sultry Sophie, Marie Gillain's naïve Anne and Karin Viard's insecure Celine, the film's most sympathetic character. Jacques Perrin brings gravitas to the Professor and Carole Bouquet is a scene stealer as the foreboding mother who is particular about how she likes her chocolate.
Patience is needed to appreciate this cinematic and emotionally dense film. But for those who are prepared to go on the journey with Tanovic, the rewards are long lasting.
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CAST: Emmanuelle Beart, Karin Viard, Marie Gillain, Guillaume Canet, Jacques Gamblin, Jacques Perrin, Carole Bouquet, Miki Manojlovic, Jean Rochfort, Maryam d'Abo
PRODUCER: Marc Baschet, Marion Hansel, Cedomir Kolar, Yuji Sadai, Rosanna Seregni
DIRECTOR: Danis Tanovic
SCRIPT: Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Krzysztof Kieslowski
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Laurent Dailland
EDITOR: Frnacesca Calvelli
MUSIC: Dusko Segvic, Danis Tanovic
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Aline Bonetto
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 8, 2006: Melbourne; June 22: Sydney 2006