BIFF14 - Mouton - Cinema Review

'a plodding young-man-comes-good tale turns into a fairly uninteresting half-look at a set of characters we have only half met'

Directed by two French newcomers, Gilles Deroo and Marianne Pistone, Mouton and its characters are described in the BIFF programme as 'old-school', 'discombobulating' and 'happy-go-lucky'. I would agree with the first two of these assertions.

Shot on 16mm and presented in 35mm, the film does have a 'look'. Set in Normandy, amongst a set of characters who have apparently variously experienced some level of hard times, the decision to shoot on film gives Mouton a throwback feel towards the 1980s, adding to its apparently deliberate air of people existing perhaps, rather than living. The focus is definitely on the characters, picked out through a series of natural, rather than confrontational, close-ups, though you do occasional find Deroo and Pistone's camera wandering to the horizon, and thoughts of elsewhere.

Into this environment, we are very quickly introduced to Aurelien (David Merabet), nickname Mouton, or Sheep. At the start of the film, Sheep is in the process of cutting himself off from his mother who, we are told, he does not want to see again. The rest of Mouton's first half plays out like a fairly typical, if oddly disconnected, coming-of-age tale, as Sheep works hard, gets a girl and is generally seen living the independent, if fairly quiet, life he has perhaps pined for.

At the half-way point a change enters Mouton which feels like an experimental miss-step too far. Deroo and Pistone switch focus, as Sheep is marginalised by the narrative, and instead we spend time with his Normandy connections (though not, oddly, his girlfriend). It turns Mouton from a plodding young-man-comes-good tale to a fairly uninteresting half-look at a set of characters we have only half met. Those feeling particularly harshly towards the film may be tempted to point out that the second half is duller than the first.

What then is Mouton about, above this experimental narrative structure, which at one point introduces a narrator we have never previously heard from, seemingly there only to enable something more. The only thing I could spot was the incredibly predictable willingness of the film to show or tell about various violences towards Normandy's animal residents, which then manifest further into the population and violences towards one another. The first part of Mouton's daily routine involves bringing in the fish, left in his care, a cat perishes, as rather pretentious chapter titles show up, we are told we are about to witness 'Mimi Abandons A Dog'. Mimi then does. Even Mouton himself, given an animal moniker, is the victim of some violence.

The film ends, bizarrely, with a queue of people waiting to stroke a large fish. Can you stroke a dead fish apologetically? You wonder if this is meant to be the point. If it is, it was too well hidden in a narrative I didn't care about to hit home properly for me.

The 20th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 27th March to 6th April 2014, with Widescreen Weekend taking place between 10th and 13th April. It is based at The National Media Museum, in the centre of Bradford.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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