Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
It may have been the best thing that ever happened to genre when french duo, famous for the tense and violent, À l'intérieur (Inside) 2007, Bustillo & Maury walked away from that proposed Hellraiser remake, saving them from the abyss of franchise (or reboot) hell. It could also be when they had the balls to ditch the Irish location, with planned English Dialogue version of Livide and simply rode tough through the storm of bureaucracy and cooperate bullshit to make their movie in their own vision. Because at the end of the day, Livide, is a stunningly emotional piece of cinema that taps right into old school gothic, eighties horror, that jaw breaking new wave of French nihilism, and classic European surreal fantasy.
Lucie Klavel [Chloé Coulloud], a young woman with plans to start working as a day nurse, spends her first day at her new job under the guidance of the more experienced Wilson [Catherine Jacob]. After visiting a gallery of patients, she manages to make contact with the one patient that Wilson can’t. The last patient of the day is a comatose woman, Mrs. Jessel [Marie-Claude Pietragalla], who Wilson claims has a treasure hidden away in her large mansion. Later that night, incidentally Halloween night, Lucie tells her hardworking fisherman, but longing for something else, boyfriend William [Félix Moati] of the day and the secret treasure supposedly hidden away in Jessel’s mansion. Together with his brother Ben [Jérémy Kapone], the trio set off to the mansion intent on finding the treasure and getting new start in life. What they find definitely change’s their lives forever.
If I say things like, the atmosphere of Hammer films mixed with the scares of the recent reincarnation of modern horror, the set pieces of Dario Argento, the poetry of Jean Rollin, the surrealism of Jan Svankmeyer and previous violence of Bustillo & Maury, then you should have a pretty good idea of the trip Livide takes it’s audience on.
From here on, spoiler alerts should be announced. I won’t split it wide open, but I will discuss certain moments in the movie, so keep that in mind. I’d prefer you come back after seeing this magnificent flick.
The first fifteen minutes are spent exploring the world and character of Lucie. Lucie is the main character, Lucie is the narrative, Lucie is the movie, establishing her is vital for the magic of Livid. In those first inaugurating minutes, we learn that she’s a sympathetic character through the way she interacts with the patients she and Wilson visit, even communicating with some that Wilson claims to be beyond contact. We later learn of her complicated relationship with her father, a man who only eight months after his wife’s death has chosen to have his new girlfriend move in with him and Lucie. Much to Lucie’s dismay. It’s at this point that we also come to empathize with Lucie, as she talks to the ghost of her dead mother [Beatrice Dalle, in her second film for Bustillo & Maury], and it’s revealed that her mother actually committed suicide. When the “heist” is in motion, Lucie feels regret and tries to halt the mission. She’s also the first to abandon the plan and try to get out of the Jessel mansion. All this gives an insight to Lucie, she’s a good girl – she’s a character with dimension, capable of making wrong and right decisions, doing bad and good, which also makes her more interesting and easier for us to empathize with. Lucie, is simply trying to get by, coping with her mourning, and finding her place in this complex world. A world in which she feels somewhat alienated. But I’ll return to that later on after I set you up for the transformation.
The setting of Halloween night, forebodes the strange events about to come… classic convention tells us that strange things happen on Halloween, serial killers come back to slaughter the few remaining relatives, Goth rock star wannabe’s come back from the grave to avenge murdered love ones, it’s the night of Samhain, and the night of the year when the supernatural and the physical world are the closest and it’s a night when we expect magical things to happen. The borders between the realms become more transparent on Halloween night. I feel that Halloween night is a key to reading Livide, as there’s some strange stuff on the road ahead, which becomes more acceptable with the magic of all hallows eve in mind.
The film could be split up into three separate parts. The ordinary world, the horror/supernatural world, and the spiritual world. As said earlier, the first act takes time to establish the players. The second is amongst one of the most creepy and atmospherically acts of horror I’ve had the pleasure to watch in a log time. Small quirks and tricks make it an unnerving act that really delivers on the scares, horror and violence. The last act becomes metamorphosis, Halloween where boundaries are transparent and when magical things can happen.
The ordinary world is all about setting up what we need to know about Lucie, as mentioned above, her searching of something new, an alternative to the mournful, lack of respect, world that she lives in. This part works like clockwork. I love Lucie, and later after the transition into the supernatural realm, I want to grab her by the hand and save her from whatever lurks in the Jessel mansion. The supernatural realm is where ghosts can jump out from the darkness, and in a way they do. Death is all around them. The three friends enter the dark realm of the Jessel’s gothic mansion and pretty soon find themselves confronted by entities of another world. The final act, the supernatural one is where Livide takes a bold step past anything you have ever seen before. This is where it boldly goes into surrealistic territory. Although with an open mind, you will read the movie correctly and will see the poetry of the violence and emotional release that comes through this act. It left me breathless, moved and with tears in my eyes in the same way that Jean Rollin’s La Rose De Fer (Iron Rose) 1973, or La Morte Vivante (The Living Dead Girl) 1982 affects me every time I watch them.
The movie works through a lot of small incidents that I could easiest compare to Russian babushka dolls. They all open up to reveal something inside, they area all dependent on each other, and they safely store each other within. There is a delicate set up, early on, a call to adventure if we where to use Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler’s terminology. When Wilson understands that she has an ambitious young helper at her side, she test’s Lucie. Seeing Lucie communicate with the old man Wilson has lost all contact with, Wilson comes to an insight. So when she goes up to the Jessel mansion, she sternly tells Lucié to stay in the car. Being eager and curious Lucie obviously follows her up to the house a few minutes later. Classic gothic territory, Lucie wanders the dark creepy mansion, has a few shock moments, and finds the partially mummified, Mrs. Jessel, who’s kept alive by the machines by her bed side. At the side of the machines stands Wilson who praises Lucie's inquisitiveness and stamina. Here Wilson has tricked Lucie into the realm of Mrs. Jessel and continues to lure her further by telling her of the hidden treasure. Wilson later returns in the break between act two and three, when the ritual is performed. Wilson is an important part of the movie and as mentioned above, she acts as a key between he various act, worlds and also ties the ritual together.
I can’t really talk about the ritual without spoiling the movie, so I’ll try not to, and perhaps mention it more as a metaphor for the change in life that Lucie wants. Also it see’s Jessel reach out for something she has lost. This is obviously a theme frequently used by Jean Rollin, and also why I can emotionally and intellectually connect this movie to his films. But one person’s desire can be another ones fall, and this dark twist works on several levels, watching the film a second time before sitting down to write this, I can feel that the movie becomes darker in it’s final act than I first thought it did, and despite the gut-wrenching atrocities we take part of, there is some form of poetic justice served.
There’s a lot of hidden symbolism in Livide, and several other reviews chose to compare the movie to Alice in Wonderland. I don’t really see that, as there’s only one clear referent to Alice in Wonderland, and that’s a demented tea party. At the same time, with the grotesqueness of the taxidermy and other oddities that make up the tea party, I choose to read this moment as a loss of childhood instead. A moment caught in time, preserved for all eternity, which when you see the movie will make perfect sense. Livide is riddled with detail and visually it's an amazing movie. I can't wait to lay my hands on a high def version of this film.
Livide contains at least two nods at Dario Argento’s Suspiria 1977. Both are perfect homages, and this is the correct way to do homages, not by naming characters after your favourite directors, but intelligently connecting one movie to another hence creating a bond between them. As soon as I saw the nod, I had an insight that Jessel was much more than the character we’d been shown so far. That moment is a stroke of genius in my opinion.
Baxter’s opening montage set’s not only a tone for the movie, but also recaps the movie in short, as there are several hidden keys in the images shown. The beach – If nothing else a homage to the late Jean Rollin and his long time fixation with returning to the beach of his childhood - but also a foreboding, and a key to understanding the moths of the movie. A moth figures in this opening montage, and although you don’t realize it at this point, the moth is a metaphor for the human soul.
The Second series of Jean Rollin evoking images are the lingering shots of the cemetery, and the image put in focus in the cemetery is Jesus Christ who just like Lazarus returned from the dead… Keep this in mind when you reach the last act, as this is significant. The final shots of the opening montage, right before we are introduced to Lucie, shows “missing” children signs. Apparently a large amount of children have gone missing in the village, and we will know why as the movie climaxes. At the end of the movie these initial images generate a terrifying rush of insight. What we have witnessed was not the first time the nocturnal rituals at the Jessel Mansion have been performed…
If there was one last piece of guidance I could offer to help you read this phenomenal movie, I'd say that you shoyuld think of Jessel and Lucie as polarized opposites. Look at their individual journeys through the movie and the reunification they both long for and you will see, at least one way of how to interpret the film.
With out doubt, a future landmark of European genre cinema, Livide is a daring movie, one of the most surreal and inventive this decade. It challenges its audience to take it’s trip through a visual cabinet of odd curiosities, demanding narrative and may just be the most poetic time you can have being scared! Livide is now one of my favorite contemporary pieces of genre cinema and I'm allready dying to return to it as I write. Luckily it's soon to get it's Scandinavian release from the good people NjutaFilms.