Only the Animals

 

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A French thriller which will appeal to some more than others.

 
Only the Animals

Laure Calamy and Bastien Bouillon

 

The extent to which the individual viewer will appreciate this film is entirely down to a single factor and one that has nothing to do with the quality of the filmmaking. However, before explaining why I think that to be the case, I will put Only the Animals in context. This is the sixth feature by the writer/director Dominik Moll. He is best known in the U.K. for the second and third of his features, 2000's Harry, He's Here to Help (2000) and Lemming (2005). Both were reasonably well received, but The Monk (2011) was undeservedly undervalued and his next piece did not even get a release here. Now, however, we have this new offering which for the most part ignores the quirky blending of genres present in his earlier work to provide us instead with a mystery thriller which has a central whodunit element.

 

Only the Animals opens with a glimpse of life in Abidjan on the Ivory Coast, a neat foreshadowing of later scenes which will be set there although the main location is Causse Méjean in southern France. A woman, Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), has gone missing and we quickly meet a number of characters whose fate will be linked to this: there's the farmer Michel Farange (Denis Ménochet), his unfaithful wife, Alice (Laure Calamy), Alice's mentally disturbed lover, Joseph (Damien Bonnard), and a young waitress who arrives from Sète, Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz). The first half of the film works splendidly as the events in which these people are caught up are revealed through a series of distinct chapters which tell the story from the standpoints of each individual in turn.

 

Because of that structure some critics have seen Kurosawa's classic Rashomon (1951) as an influence, but this is not a work offering conflicting views of what has happened and stressing how difficult it is to discern what is true. It's not even a work like Anthony Asquith's The Woman in Question (1950) which was also a whodunit showing contrasted viewpoints since that work examined how the victim was seen differently by each of those close to her. Instead, Only the Animals echoes that film by being so structured as to contain opportunities to revisit scenes already viewed but now seen from a different angle and with evolving perceptions. This all makes for engaging storytelling by Moll who, aided by his very able cast, puts over for at least half of its length a film that readily invites us to suspend disbelief and go with an unlikely but engaging tale.

 

It is the film's second half which brings to the fore the issue that is likely to divide the audience. We are suddenly immersed in the harshness of life on the streets of Abidjan but what initially looks like a tangential thread carried on for rather too long proves in the event to be central to the plot's development and resolution. Reference may be made to the role of chance in life, but what is eventually revealed suggests only an overindulgence in the coincidences and contrivances that smack of the fictional. In last year's splendid Knives Out we had plotting equally complex and set up but what made it effective was that the film knowingly existed solely within the unreal world of an Agatha Christie-style thriller. In such a context what in realistic terms is hardly credible becomes delightful in its ingenuity as a puzzle solver. But, not least in the sections on the Ivory Coast, Only the Animals fails to be sealed off from any sense of reality and the more believable elements serve to underline the utter unbelievability at the heart of the tale. And that's the issue: if your taste is such that you readily accept whatever is offered in a thriller however preposterous then there is a good chance that you will enjoy this work from beginning to end.

 

Original title: Seules les bêtes.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Denis Ménochet, Laure Calamy, Damien Bonnard, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Bastien Bouillon, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Guy Roger 'Bibisse' N'drin, Fred Ulysse, Christian Ezan, Marie Victoire Amie.

 

Dir Dominik Moll, Pro Simon Arnal, Caroline Benjo, Barbara Letellier and Carole Scotta, Screenplay Gilles Marchand  and Dominik Moll, from the novel by Colin Niel, Ph Patrick Ghiringhelli, Pro Des Emmanuelle Duplay, Ed Laurent Rouan, Music Benedikt Schiefer, Costumes Isabelle Pannetier.

 

Haut et Court/Razor Film Produktion GmbH/France 3 Cinéma/Canal+/Ciné+/The Match Factory-Curzon.
117 mins. France/Germany. 2019. Rel: 29 May 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.