DOMAIN (Domaine) B+
France Austria (110 mi) 2009 d: Patric Chiha Domaine | Filmtrailer - YouTube
While this is basically a highly atmospheric and toxically charged character study that continually surprises us with a unique and unorthodox intimacy and continually changing narrative direction, it’s also a pedestal for the incomparable Béatrice Dalle as Nadia, where the director wrote the part specifically for her and she summons the brazen audaciousness that has defined her screen presence throughout her career, discovered as a sex kitten in BETTY BLUE (1986), which also takes an unconventional turn, she is now an aging Parisian who finds order in the universe through mathematics and logic, where to her “words are disorder.” While a few of her friends are older, closer to her age, she’s instead enthralled with the presence of youth, in particular a young man who hangs on her every word, Isaïe Sultan as Pierre, an almost beautiful looking 17-year old boy who follows her around like a puppy dog, often seen with his friends as school lets out where he immediately gives Nadia a call telling her he’ll “be there in 30 minutes.” They typically go for a walk through the lavishly designed natural beauty of a gorgeously immense park filled with hidden walkways, a place Nadia describes as the most beautiful park in the world, where what describes her is her walk, seen here: DOMAINE, un film de Patric Chiha-Extrait 1 - YouTube (1:58), where she is the picture of confidence, almost strutting like a peacock, always the center of attention in her stiletto heels, where she goes on long, rambling monologues reminiscent of live theater that move effortlessly between her ordered personal philosophy to a kind of morbid view of the world that disappointedly fails to live up to her standards. What might seem curious, the nature of their relationship, remains hidden and off limits to the audience, something that feels like a key ingredient of the film.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature is the phenomenal use of lighting, given a German expressionist feel, shot by Pascal Poucet where the vibrant colors are accentuated by brief hints of light engulfed by a surrounding darkness that is always framing and protruding into the action. This moody atmosphere of darkness is more than a theme, as it becomes synonymous with their ever more dour moods where they descend into the depths of a bleak, underground cabaret nightclub that resembles the decadence of Berlin, where Pierre appropriately picks out the glam clothes for Nadia to wear, seen here: DOMAINE, un film de Patric Chiha-Extrait 2 - YouTube (2:28), where Dalle does what she does best, admire herself while lavished with attention by a beautiful young boy, but also where we first start to see cracks in her orderly perfection. On the crowded dance floor, they immerse themselves into the mixed gay and straight aesthetic of a dreamlike world, dancing to an intoxicating techno beat that lulls one into a mesmerizing slow dance, where Pierre’s inner self is less hidden, displayed in a kind of gay awakening, a common theme in Dalle films, also expressed by the men in Christophe Honore’s brilliantly impressionistic SEVENTEEN TIMES CECILLE CASSARD (2002). Pierre finds a lover that takes his mind off Nadia’s growing sense of obsessive self-indulgence, spending less and less time with her, where in café’s, Nadia doesn’t so much sip alcohol as consume alcohol, finding the world around her less inviting, where Pierre’s mother shows a concern, encouraging her to seek help, but Pierre protects her, where both he and Nadia live with the constant denial of their choice, hauntingly expressed in this downbeat sense of morbidity: White Wine & Sleeping Pills (John's Song featuring Raphaël Bouvet) (2:33).
Emilie Hanak’s (Milkymee) hauntingly eclectic musical soundtrack, where one song is appropriately called “Gloom,” can be heard here along with two extended Dalle monologues (in French): Domaine (Original Soundtrack) | milkymee. The rhythm of the film continually seeks out the beauty of nature, perhaps the only perfect orderly existence, always shown in luxuriant shots of insurmountable beauty (unfortunately not on 35 mm), which contrasts with the theatrical feel of Dalle’s multiple monologues, often feeling like a play, becoming poetic ramblings about her deteriorating appreciation for life and the people around her, finding less and less use for them, until eventually they don’t matter at all. Her attraction to youth and to young boys reflects her obsession with youth, where her real fear is aging and growing old, where alcoholism becomes a substitute for futility and fatalism, as she can’t reverse the aging process. When the circumstances grow dire and she finally seeks treatment, it’s set in a magnificent upscale mountain resort setting of Austria surrounded by even more snow-capped mountains, where the prominent theme of darkness is temporarily replaced by the enveloping whiteness of snow, seen here on Pierre’s arrival to visit Nadia: DOMAINE, un film de Patric Chiha-Extrait 3 - YouTube (1:55). It is here that the film grows most mysterious, where Nadia appears well on the road to recovery, but she also delivers her most laceratingly pessimistic monologue, a stinging rebuke of life itself, given a sense of ambiguity as to whether it was meant for anyone else to hear. Reminiscent of Norwegian Wood (2010), especially the bleak subject matter and the use of natural settings, along with the sudden turn toward futility, where only the intransigence of the natural world offers any hint of human transcendence. In the end, engulfed in the naked beauty of the surrounding world, none of that matters, given an eerie and hauntingly beautiful sense of finality, boldly and dramatically poetic, yet finally unambiguous.