Set in a dystopian future, “Carre Blanc” is about a time where those who play the “game” excel and those who refuse to, die. This is a world where only the strong survive and knowing this, Phillipe’s mother at the start of the film commits suicide in an attempt to toughen up her son and giving him a greater chance of survival. He is sent to an orphanage of sorts where he decides to commit suicide himself, but seconds before death he is saved by a young girl named Marie. The two fall in love and marry. Fifteen years ahead and we see that Phillipe has learnt how to play the game well and as such has a powerful position at his place of employment. His job entails performing tests on company employees to see how they rate with one another. These can become quite violent and may lead to death, but Phillipe is unaffected by it all, he is playing the game. Marie on the other hand is miserable, she hates the monster that Phillipe has become and just wants him to return to reality. She is also desperate for a child which Phillipe seems unable to give to her. Something has got to give or life for Phillipe as he knows it will surely end.
Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s “Carre Blanc” is a strange film but a very intriguing one. Nothing is over explained or explained at all, so you basically feel your way through the film. What is interesting besides the story is the little details around it. For instance we are regular presented a number which obviously represents the time of some sort, but it is counting down, therefore indicating that time is finite. It appears also that population levels are also dwindling as we regularly hear over loudspeakers advertisements for artificial insemination where the age of consent starts at fourteen but by the end of the film is as young as twelve. The birth of a child is also significant as a congratulations announcement is issued throughout the whole world too. Why is it so hard to have children in this time? Is it because time is limited and as such no one wants to bring a child into a world that will soon cease to exist? Another thing that is alluded to is the fact that when a human dies, their body is collected and shipped off to be processed into meat to be consumed by the rest of the population. What has happened to food supply in this time? These are all questions that are never answered but help create the world we are witnessing. However the biggest question is why do they have such an infatuation with the sport of croquet? This actually causes a lot of the humour of the film.
Although the “game” is never clearly defined, it is alluded to that one must be ready to kill or at least hurt others if they want to succeed in life. While it looks like the system is working you can tell that there are a lot of bottled emotions that will surely explode and when it does the system will break down. In regards to the story, due to the stylistic way it is told, it can sometimes be hard to understand what is going on, and I must admit that it took me a while to realize that we had cut ahead to the future, with our main characters all grown up now. Acting wise the film is well done, but again because of the stylistic choices, dialogue is never spoken naturally. Still Sami Bouajila does a commendable job of actually making Phillipe charismatic and likable even when he is doing terrible things to others. Towards the end of the film when he “wakes up”, he instills a level of humanity missing from his performance earlier in. Julie Gayet as Marie is forever in a depressive state to the point of being suicidal and you can really tell that she is on the edge and if she cannot bring her husband back from the brink, it will be her last attempt at trying.
The look of the film is very bold and distinctive and I loved it. The cinematography was full of deep shadows with only small bursts of light illuminating the objects on screen. This is surely a visual representation of how much darkness there is in the world at this time, and that they are almost fighting a losing battle to stay normal and in control of their own destiny. The colour palette of browns, yellows and grays, all combine to create a certain look, cold and clinical much like the film itself.
Overall, “Carre Blanc” was an interesting film, but it is not an easy one. You have to work to understand certain things and answers are never forthcoming. The atmosphere created by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti is palpable and claustrophobic, but gives the film its very distinct tone. At the end of the day, I liked the film but I do not think that it should have been added to the “Nightshift” sidebar of MIFF, it didn’t really fit that at all.