The Wind Turns (Le Vent tourne, Switzerland-France, 2018)

The good life?

The Good Life (UK, 1975-8) was a sitcom posited on a middle class couple trying to be self sufficient in suburbia as an antidote to the rat race. Nearly 50 years later, managing the soil and food supplies is not something for comedy as climate catastrophe starts to envelope us. That’s, roughly, the premise of Swiss director Bettina Oberli’s (she co-wrote with Antoine Jaccoud) French language debut, without the suburbia and the comedy. Set in the beautiful Jura mountains, Pauline (Mélanie Thierry) and Alex (Pierre Deladonchamps) farm in isolation, taking on a Ukrainian girl, Galina (Anastasia Shevtsova), for the summer as part of a project to help victims of Chernobyl. They work really hard. In an attempt to avoid using the electricity grid, Samuel (Nuno Lopes) is hired to erect a wind turbine and suddenly Pauline is not so sure that life with Alex is all dreamboat.

Although I enjoyed the film, performances and cinematography (by Stéphane Kuthy) are all excellent, I wondered where its sympathies lay. Alex is something of a fundamentalist in that he rejects vaccines for the cattle on the grounds they are interfering with nature. Pauline’s sister is a vet, and co-owns the farm, and so there was interesting possibilities regarding the degree to which science should be used in farming. At one extreme, factory farming has turned animal husbandry into animal cruelty and caused a degradation in both the food supply and ecological footprints. Alex becomes something of a villain as it becomes clear in that his stubborn-headed insistence on a pure way of living is doomed to failure; and he’s in danger of losing his wife. However, the film doesn’t suggest that there is much benefit in the couple’s lifestyle, to themselves or the planet. It’s true that Galina’s health benefits, and comes to love the place after initially being bored with no wifi and little mobile reception, but there’s no suggestion that there is a ‘happy medium’ between scientific intervention (vaccination is not bad) and organic living. Surely humankind needs to find this balance or the way forward is backwards. Overall, the melodrama of the love affair overtakes the ecological theme.

The film is resolutely from Pauline’s perspective and Thierry is great at portraying the ‘animal’ lust that leads her to Samuel. It’s not a pull that’s easy to resist but she shows that, had Alex been less in his own bubble, she might well have done so.

School’s Out (L’heure de la sortie, France, 2018) – LIFF8

The kids aren’t alright

Sébastien Marnier’s second film as a director (he also co-wrote) is pleasing in that it deals with the key political, indeed existential, issue of our time: ecological destruction. It’s couched as a thriller where Laurent Laffitte’s Pierre takes over, as a substitute teacher in a private school, a class of gifted children. Their previous teacher jumped out of the class’ second floor window during a test. The slow burn development of what’s going on in the six of the kids’ creepy minds is satisfying but the denouement can’t hold the burden of what precedes it.

The kids could be out of The Damned or Village of the Damned such is their apparent disassociation from the social world; unsurprisingly the other children in the school see them as elitist (which is a bit rich considering they all are privileged). Pierre endeavours to understand them (suitably he’s completing a thesis on Kafka reflecting the absurdity of the situation he finds himself in) and rails against the Principal who (a malaise in France as well as the UK apparently) is only concerned with results. However, it is always difficult to convince a teacher (ex in my case) of the veracity of school life and I cannot believe that violent attack on Pierre would have been shrugged off in such a perfunctory fashion (unless that’s France for you).

There are plenty of beautiful, portentous, shots of the sky and I kept expecting aliens to arrive but, as the horrifying ‘found footage’ of animal cruelty and desecration of the Earth shows, the real threat are humans who are depriving our children of a future. Zombie Zombie’s music heavy-handedly emphasises the point, however the film needed a bigger climax though the final scene is quite haunting.