MOKA, drama, not rated, in French with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles
Just across Lake Geneva from Lausanne, Switzerland, is the French city of Évian, a picturesque place that is home to the water-bottling empire. The two cities, and the waterway that connects them, are the setting for the latest film from director Frédéric Mermoud (Accomplices), based on a novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.
Diane (Emmanuelle Devos) has lost a child to a hit-and-run accident in Lausanne. A private detective ( Jean-Philippe Écoffey) discovers that eyewitness accounts of the car involved suggest it was an older BMW or Mercedes of a particular beige hue (thus the film’s title). A bit of footwork leads Diane to such a car, and to its owners — Évian residents whom she believes to be the culprits: salon owner Marlène (Nathalie Baye) and her husband, Michel (David Clavel).
Diane insinuates herself into their lives, showing up for makeovers at Marlène’s salon and expressing interest in buying a car from Michel. The car, a beige Mercedes coupe, has just been put up for sale, and it has had a bit of work done recently on the front end. (Hmm.) Initially it seems possible that Diane is merely gathering information, but as she digs deeper into the couple’s lives, revenge appears to be the more likely motive. On the ferry across the lake, she meets a young man named Vincent (Olivier Chantreau), who enlists her in a minor deception, and the two strike up a friendship born of a mutual need for discreet assistance in their personal schemes.
As the summer movie season wears on, full of comic-book flicks, sci-fi epics, and their sequels, it’s refreshing to see something that operates on a human scale. Though the scenery is lovely and the cast is talented, little about Moka is especially cinematic — it feels like an engrossing movie you might discover while surfing channels on a rainy afternoon. The carefully shaded characters and the mystery of the central plot make the film seem like something out of the 1940s or ’50s. In fact, the nebulous nature of Diane’s plans for Marlène and Michel gives Moka a noirish feel, which deepens when she develops a relationship with Marlène’s daughter, Élodie (Diane Rouxel).
What drives the film is the interplay between Baye and Devos. Baye is excellent as the twinkly-eyed object of Diane’s suspicion, who picks up more from her new “friend” than Diane realizes. And as Diane delves deeper into the lives of the strangers she believes killed her son, we glimpse the passion that Devos brought to 2001’s Read My Lips. She perfectly portrays a woman whose obsession threatens to snowball out of control. — Jeff Acker
Here in my car: Nathalie Baye