EVO­LU­TION, hor­ror/mys­tery, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Evo­lu­tion be­gins un­der wa­ter, and it main­tains an un­der­wa­ter pace through­out. Di­rec­tor Lu­cile Hadz­i­halilovic (In­no­cence) moves hyp­not­i­cally to tell a story of sub­dued hor­ror, a sci-fi-in­flected night­mare that un­folds on an is­land of lost boys.

Ni­co­las (Max Bre­bant), a skinny ten-year-old, is swim­ming be­neath the blue-green wa­ters off his is­land home when he finds the drowned body of a boy about his age with a red starfish draped on his belly. Ni­co­las hur­ries home and tells his mother (JulieMarie Par­men­tier), an im­pas­sive loaf-faced woman, who lis­tens, as she of­ten does, with­out re­spond­ing. But later, she dives in the area and comes up with the red starfish. “There was no body,” she de­clares. “There never was.”

The is­land is a mys­te­ri­ous vil­lage of rigid white struc­tures that calls to mind the haunt­ing for­mal land­scapes of Gior­gio de Chirico’s vi­sions of Ital­ian town squares. It grad­u­ally be­comes ap­par­ent that this is­land is pop­u­lated en­tirely by boys of Ni­co­las’ age and build and by women who match the gen­eral de­scrip­tion of his mother: thir­ty­ish, iden­ti­cally dressed in beige smocks, with ex­pres­sion­less faces and pale eye­brows. There are no girls. There are no men.

The only in­sti­tu­tion we see is a hos­pi­tal, where nurses and doc­tors — all fe­male, all clad in white, all sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance — sit stone-faced, watch­ing videos of Cae­sarean-sec­tion de­liv­er­ies, and give med­i­ca­tion to and perform sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures on the cap­tive pa­tient pop­u­la­tion, among whom Ni­co­las even­tu­ally finds him­self.

Ni­co­las looks well and feels well, but his mother wants him to be­lieve he’s sick. She feeds him a nox­ious­look­ing gruel of some­thing green that’s flecked with worm­like strands of what could be noo­dles, and she gives him an inky-look­ing medicine to swal­low. “Am I go­ing to die?” he asks her. A stare. No re­sponse.

The women of the vil­lage go out at night, mov­ing word­lessly through the dark­ened vil­lage with lanterns, con­verg­ing on the shore. One night Ni­co­las sneaks out and fol­lows them, and from a cliff he spies them ly­ing naked on the rocks be­low, writhing in a for­ma­tion that could be con­sid­ered starfish-shaped. It’s not ex­actly sex­ual, but it could have some­thing to do with mak­ing ba­bies.

When Ni­co­las cuts his hand on a rock while swim­ming, his mother takes him to the hos­pi­tal, where a sloe-eyed nurse named Stella (as in star, played by Rox­ane Du­ran) stitches up the wound and tells him he’s a good boy. She’s ominous like the oth­ers, but she’s dif­fer­ent — there seems to be some­thing vaguely sym­pa­thetic about her.

Two things set Ni­co­las apart from the other boys of the is­land. One is a re­bel­lious streak, or at least a skep­ti­cal one. “They’re ly­ing to us,” he tells his friend Vic­tor (Mathieu Gold­feld); and later, when or­dered to “obey your mother,” he shouts, “You’re not my mother!” — an ac­cu­sa­tion that would seem to have more than a ker­nel of truth to it.

The other clue to Ni­co­las’ sep­a­rate­ness on this is­land of lost (stolen?) boys is his pen­chant for draw­ing. He fills his se­cret sketch­book with an­i­mals, Fer­ris wheels, and other things that don’t ex­ist on the is­land. Where do these mem­o­ries come from? Where does he come from? He con­ceals the book; Stella finds it and is in­trigued and touched by what she sees.

Hadz­i­halilovic is not at pains to have you un­der­stand what’s go­ing on. The film is rife with sym­bol­ism. A lot of time is spent be­neath the waves, where flora un­du­lates to the rhythms of ocean cur­rents. It helps to know that the starfish is a crea­ture that re­pro­duces asex­u­ally. Though the movie is in color, it’s easy to re­mem­ber much of it in mono­chrome, with a few spots of color — green gruel, a red bathing suit, a red starfish.

Bre­bant’s solemn, search­ing per­for­mance an­chors the film and keeps us in­volved as Evo­lu­tion un­folds at a mes­meric pace, leav­ing us plenty of time to try to fig­ure things out. This story of an evolved fe­male­cen­tric world — where men are not only ir­rel­e­vant but com­pletely ab­sent and prop­a­ga­tion of the species no longer re­quires the messy old-fash­ioned par­a­digm — may, in the end, be just a cau­tion­ary tale, like the scenes fore­shad­owed by Dick­ens’s Ghost of Christ­mas Yet to Come:

“Be­fore I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “an­swer me one ques­tion. Are these the shad­ows of the things that Will be, or are they shad­ows of things that May be, only? ... Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”

There is a greater world out there, Hadz­i­halilovic sug­gests, and good sense may pre­vail af­ter all.

— Jonathan Richards

Go­ing deep: Max Bre­bant

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