November 10, 2011

L'autre monde (2010)

One of the most interesting new concepts that resulted from the creation of the Internet was that of massively multiplayer online games, that is, games where multiple players use the Internet to enter a computer-simulated world. As technology advanced, the games have become more and more detailed in their depiction of virtual worlds, to the point that games like "Second Life" have even developed its own virtual economy. Certainly, this has also raised concerns about the security and privacy of these virtual worlds, particularly because of the malicious use that could be given to them. This idea of a new brave new virtual world to explore, where one can create an identity completely different than the real one, inspired French director Gilles Marchand (of "Qui a tué Bambi?" fame) to create a story of suspense with the concept of a computer-simulated world as the basis. The result is "L'autre monde", literally "The Other World", a somber neo-noir with certain echoes of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet".

Known in English as "Black Heaven", "L'autre monde" is the story of Gaspard (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), a young teenager who one day finds a cellphone in beach. Along his girlfriend Marion (Pauline Etienne), Gaspard reads the text messages in it and discover a strange relationship going on between a man called Dragon (Swann Arlaud) and the phone owner, Audrey (Louise Bourgoin). Full of curiosity, Gaspard and Marion track down Dragon and Audrey, and follow them to the nearby woods, where the couple has decided to commit suicide together. Gaspard and Marion try to save them, but they can only rescue Audrey, however, they chose not to reveal their identity to her. Days after that event, Gaspard grows more and more obsessed with Audrey, specially when he discovers that Dragon and Audrey met in the popular massively multiplayer online game "Black Hole". Gaspard makes an account in "Black Hole" and meets Audrey again, but this will literally take him to another world unknown for him, a world of deceit, lies and death.

With a screenplay written by Marchand himself and Dominik Moll (director of the remarkable thriller "Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien"), "L'autre monde" chronicles Gaspard's obsessive infatuation with Audrey, the story's proverbial femme fatal. Gaspard lives in what by all accounts is a perfect world: he lives in a paradisaical seaside town, has recently moved out of home to live in a flat with his friends, and on top of that has just started a relationship with Marion. However, Audrey represents a different world for him, a dangerous yet captivating world that's new and attractive to him (danger is sexy after all). And the novelty of this world is reflected in Black Hole, the online game she frequents. Marchand and Moll make of "L'autre monde" a tale of Gaspard's loss of innocence, as the world turns out to be a lot bigger than what he, in all his adolescent naiveté, thought it was. Gaspard's descent to darkness, and the use they give to the virtual world concept as a twisted mirror of reality is particularly interesting.

This duality between the worlds, Gaspard's real life and his online ventures are portrayed by director Gilles Marchand's use of computer generated animation. The virtual world of Black Hole is an animated noir nightmare perpetually in night time with a minimalist yet decidedly Art Deco design (as contradictory as that may sound). The animation is fluid and has a certain somber beauty, which contrasts with the one of the natural landscapes Marchard's captures in Gaspard's town. Cinematographer Céline Bozon captures the vibrant colors of summer, taking advantage of the locations to create a very natural visual look. In fact, visually Marchard's "L'autre monde" is a very attractive film, which reflects perfectly the way Gaspard's life changes as he enters Black Hole and begins to have a double life there. Duality is a key aspect in "L'autre monde"'s story, and Marchard handles well the mystery aspects of the film, proving himself a capable director and storyteller. Unfortunately, his skill fails to save the screenplays' worst flaws.

The acting is pretty good for the most part, though some of the younger cast members show their lack of experience in their performances. Leading the cast as Gaspard, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet is really good as the teenager awaking to a world bigger than him. There's great realism in his performance, as he looks convincingly as both a curious innocent and as a malicious jerk. With the film based entirely around him, Leprince-Ringuet's under a lot of pressure, but manages to carry the film convincingly. As the mysterious and alluring Audrey, Louise Bourgoin is effective, though perhaps less convincing. While definitely a beautiful woman, there's a certain stiffness in her performance that plays against her role as femme fatal. Melvil Poupaud, playing Audrey's overprotective brother Vincent is far more successful, making a convincing portrait of a violent, unpredictable man not so happy with the young Gaspard approaching his sister. Pauline Etienne as Gaspard girlfriend is good, but her role is terribly underdeveloped.

And this is perhaps the greatest problem of what otherwise could had been an awesome neo-noir thriller: it's terribly underdeveloped screenplay. Marchard and Moll have created a fascinating tale of lies and deception that truly gives an interesting use to the concept of a second virtual life. However, there's a certain restrain, an unwillingness to actually take the premise to new grounds that it's all left as a mere cautionary tale about the dangers of spending too much time on the Internet. Something that wouldn't be so tragic if it wasn't for the fact that the film seemed to be aiming for better. In "L'autre monde" Marchard conveys all the necessary ingredients for a thrilling noir story (mystery, eroticism, treachery and darkness), but ends up in an anti-climatic tone that seems to betray everything that the film was achieving. Certainly, a disappointment, as the restrain Moll and Marchard show in the weak way they end the story makes the film feel like a TV movie.

"L'autre monde" has many good things going for it, beginning with the approach Marchard takes to portray the virtual world of Black Hole, and the overall noir atmosphere the movie has. However, the weak finale is certainly a disappointment, as it undermines everything that's built initially. And perhaps the disappointment is bigger given the fact that both Marchard and Moll have proved to be skilled in the construction of thrillers (the previously mentioned "Qui a tué Bambi?" and "Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien" are more than enough proof). All in all, "L'autre monde" or "Black Heaven" isn't really a bad film, it's just nowhere near the level its interesting premise could had been taken.


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