Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Starring: Emmanuelle Béart – Jeanne Bellmer; Rufus Sewell – Paul Bellmer
One would think it almost impossible that a film which follows the journey of grieving parents into a remote Burmese jungle to find their lost son – washed away 6 months previously by the 2004 tsunami – could fail to elicit any emotion from its viewer, and so it is something of a disastrous achievement that Vinyan manages to do exactly that.
The lurching and hallucinogenic journey itself is launched when troubled mother Jeanne (Emmanuelle Béart) becomes convinced that she sees her missing son in the background of some grainy documentary footage at a charity evening in Phuket which she and her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) are attending. Immediately enraptured by the idea that her son is alive in nearby Burma, she convinces her initially skeptical spouse to set out on a predictably hazardous rescue journey. Enlisting the dubious help of some shady locals, the pair scours shanty towns, jungle hideaways and dilapidated ruins in the hope of a reunion with their stray offspring, yet with each step they come face to face with progressively disturbing scenes, both externally and within their tortured minds.
If this all sounds tense, nervy, and exciting…it isn’t. We have so cripplingly little investment in the couple and their struggle that in fact the only reason one hopes for a blesséd family reunion is that it would cause the tediously predictable and repetitive manhunt to come to an all too welcome conclusion. The set-up is so brief and the actions of the couple so immediately hysterical that we have no time or inclination to sympathise with their plight or forge the remotest connection. One can only imagine the horror of living the scenario in which they find themselves, but it must be appreciated that this is a piece of cinema, and one in which a lack of attention to manufacturing pathos and compassion with the protagonists would be – and is – fatal to its success.
Comparison’s made to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and subsequently Apocalypse Now can extend no further than to setting and superficial crossovers regarding mental collapse. Certainly there is no similarity as regards quality, and the psychological wringer through which, in particular, Jeanne is put/puts herself is an extremely pale imitation. Béart herself is not at fault here, for her performance is satisfactory if little more, and in fact Sewell’s display conveys well a juxtaposition of rationality and madness, and lends his character an admirable realism.
Du Welz should be commended for his handling of landscape, for he allows the spectacular setting to speak for itself without pretentious flourishes or over-direction – though sadly the same cannot be said for the aforementioned mental torture of the central figures. As with the scenes and occurrences these two come across during their voyage, there is, despite the repeated attempts made, no sense of fear or disturbance created by anything other than a basic dread of finding oneself in similar situations. Being stuck in a remote jungle shack during a thunderstorm with a bunch of hysterical feral children covered in body paint is likely to be accepted by most as an undesirable scenario, yet nothing more than this natural accession ever works to unsettle the viewer.
A mention must be saved for the closing scene which could – kindly – be described as tasteless and nonsensical. But, although unlikely, don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s worth the 96 minutes running time to finally see something that’s entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Just like getting lost amongst feral children in the jungle, this is best avoided.