Sunday, July 12, 2009

ECOUTE LE TEMPS (Fissures, 2007)

The French title basically means "listen to time," and while that makes sense the international title is just as valid while doing more justice to the multiplicity of fissures that emerge in Alante Kavaite's writing-directing debut. Watching it, I felt that an American remake is inevitable, though it would probably more overwrought and even busier in plot terms than the original. It has a high concept that falls somewhere between science fiction and horror wrapped inside a murder mystery with twists for the unwary, not to mention a starring role that I imagine lots of American actresses would kill for.

The main character is Charlotte, a movie sound technician. She goes out on locations and records live sound for use in nature documentary. After an opening bit that shows her on a drive with her mother in which they hit a deer, we see Charlotte at work recording sounds bubbling from a fissure in the earth. Then she gets the news that her mother has been murdered. Her mission of mourning returns her to her old home town, where she isn't especially welcome and her mother isn't particularly missed by some people. "I'd thought we'd seen the back of that witch," someone grumbles, and that's not that broad a metaphor. Among other things, Charlotte's mom did a variation on tarot readings using a pack of rune cards. When they hit the deer, we learn, she felt it was a bad omen, and her instincts seem to have been correct.



But whodunit? A number of candidates emerge, the most likely being Jerome, a local simpleton who masturbates to a photo of Charlotte and Mom, and M. Bourmel, the town's mayor, who's feuding with organic farmers (led by handsome Julien, who seems to have had a fling with the mom before the end) who oppose the area's fertilizer industry. The mayor links the dead mother to the green hippies by scoffing, "It's organic tomatoes one day, a black mass the next." He wants to buy mom's house, and discouraging Charlotte from keeping it because "there are a lot of holes" on the land. We can eventually infer that he wants the land to dump toxic waste in. To add to suspicions, there's a second mystery, the fate of a missing boy that may be linked to the murder.

Genre fans may recognize Emilie Dequenne from Brotherhood of the Wolf. Here she is alongside an (alternatively) titular fissure in Ecoute le Temps.


To be honest, Mom's house isn't in good shape. The walls are cracking everywhere. To lighten her mood, Charlotte decides to record the fissures in the walls and the settling of the floors. To her surprise, she picks up what some might call EVPs, only much clearer and more distinct than anything you ever hear on Ghost Hunters. It's her own mother's voice, and in some places her own. Her microphone and equipment are picking up sounds of the past. Over time, she can map out places where she can hear certain times, turning the main room into a kind of giant cat's cradle. Some of these phenomena date back to her childhood. Others are ominously more recent. Once this all sinks in, Charlotte realizes that she might be able to listen in on her mother's death and hear who did it. The challenge will be to crack the mystery before the house comes crashing down around her, or before anyone decides that she suddenly knows too much....



How is this happening? Had Charlotte's Mom tapped into real magic that is somehow leaking out of the house? Could the toxic waste leeching into the soil have something to do with this mutant phenomena? Could there simply be fissures in time the way there are fissures in the earth? Kavaite wisely leaves the why question unanswered, opting for a vague yet progressively more creepy sense of uncanny dread. The movie ultimately comes down on the horror side of the equation, I think, as the house deteriorates more rapidly the closer Charlotte comes to discovering the moment of death. The payoff is a reasonably effective scare scene, but some viewers might think that Kavaite didn't exploit every opportunity available in this story. In an American version, I'd suppose, there'd be someone trying to kill Charlotte, possibly in the house at the climactic moment, but Kavaite saw no need for that extra suspense. Once Charlotte learns the truth, the story resolves itself with little added drama. Hollywood, by comparison, often assumes that someone who has killed is capable of killing again at any moment. To be fair, that's a common assumption of the exploitation mentality around the world, which only proves that Ecoute le Temps, for all its genre trappings, is no exploitation film. But that's all right, because it works as a low-key independent film with a major gimme lurking inside. I was lucky enough to borrow it from the Albany Public Library, but it might be worth it even if you have to go to a little more trouble.

Here's the trailer with English captions and subtitles, uploaded by dogwoof

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