March 25, 2011

Left Bank (2008)

(AKA Linkeroever)

"When Marie moves into her boyfriend's apartment, she uncovers a disturbing mystery."

One of the most interesting things about having a Netflix account for me is when I forget that I've added a certain film to the queue and then it gets delivered in place of something else. Last night I was all prepared to watch "In the womb: Cats and dogs" but, upon opening the envelope, I found "Left Bank" instead. I'm still not quite sure how this happened other than accidentally clicking the "move to top" button but I'm sort of glad that it did otherwise I wouldn't have had anything to write about.

Since I didn't even remember adding "Left Bank" to my queue, I had no idea what it was going to be about or even if it was a horror film at all. There were no obvious clues in the blurb written on the envelope and I was too lazy to look it up. After about half an hour of watching it, I still wasn't sure that it wasn't just some sexy Dutch drama either. But I kept on watching anyway just in case things started to get more sinister... and they did.

I suppose the easiest way to describe "Left Bank" is as a Belgian (not Dutch even though they all speak Dutch) version of "Rosemary's Baby" but without a decent ending. Apart from the slow pace and gradual feeling that this was all going to turn out badly, it didn't really have many horror elements to it. You could probably also compare it to "The Wicker Man" and "Dark Water" if you really tried but it didn't have a plot quite that clever either. What it reminded me of most was Lars von Trier's "The Kingdom" but with considerably less characters to worry about. One scene in particular involving the heroine's mother and a pendulum could have been straight out of that Danish TV series especially as the actress looks a lot like Sigrid Drusse too.

I'm not sure if Pieter Van Hees was trying to emulate "The Kingdom" or if he just borrowed bits and pieces from all over the place to make his film even weirder than it would have been already. There are certainly enough unexplainable details to make you think that they were added for no other reason than just to give people something to speculate about on internet message boards and blogs. I'm not playing that game though and if I can't work out what something is supposed to mean on one viewing then it pretty much means that the movie failed in its purpose.

Just for the sake of mentioning those "weird" bits though, I will say that I have no idea why Marie (played by Eline Kuppens) had a dream about suckling a baby who turned into a man, nor do I know why her injured knee went black, sprouted hairs and then had a mouse climb out of it. As for the ending itself, it was pretty obvious but also left me with a ton of questions concerning the plotholes which I don't even have the patience to try and find the answers to. It was simply very bad filmmaking which makes the fantastic acting performances and camerawork even more wasteful.

Have you ever watched a horror film which was really good until right at the end? Well, "Left Bank" is unfortunately one of those. I'm probably going to get slammed for this but pitifully bad endings seem to be true of every other Belgian horror film that I've ever seen especially "Calvaire" and "The Pack". If you've never seen them, don't waste your time. I'm even tempted to throw the French movie "High Tension" into this category since that was another which I really enjoyed until the ending ruined it all.

I'm not going to be completely negative about "Left Bank" though. Eline Kuppens pretty much carried the whole thing and was perfect in her role as Marie. Matthias Schoenaerts who played her boyfriend, Bobby, was all about his looks rather than adding any great depth to his character but was still pretty decent. The dialogue (albeit translated into subtitles for me) was adequate but also frustrating at times. There were so many things which I wanted Marie to ask Bobby about but she didn't and that made the quirkiness of "Left Bank" just a little bit irritating.

Apart from the gloominess of the whole thing (which probably has more to do with the setting and climate of Antwerp than anything else), "Left Bank" fell short of tension, scares or anything of any real shock value to qualify it as a horror film. It was a good psychological drama with some possible overly ambitious philosophical ideas involved in it but it wasn't very satisfying.

Surprisingly, I'm still going to recommend "Left Bank" for anyone who wants something a little bit more cerebral than the stale stalk, hack and slash thrillers which there are already far too many of. I've already mentioned it but I'll just repeat that it's all very reminiscent of something Lars von Trier would do especially when depressed. Just don't expect there to be any answers for bits you don't understand because there aren't any.

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