Thursday, 26 March 2020

BFI FLARE 2020 - DON'T LOOK DOWN review

In a stylish apartment overlooking the streets of Paris, a group of five strangers meet to discuss the one thing they have in common; the man who is locked the room next to them. A parasitic and controlling presence in their lives, in some way or another they have all been mistreated and manipulated by him. As they collectively try to work out why he was able to effect their lives so much, they go into the room one by one to confront their problems, and him.

With topics of discussion ranging from politics to secret desires, the five young, attractive, but narcissistic and damaged people (Manika Auxire, Geoffrey Couet, Simon Frenay, Francois Nambot & Lawrence Valin) cook, eat and flirt with each other, building a steady stream of tension, and not just sexual. Directed and written by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (of Theo and Hugo fame), due to the confined nature of the single setting it wouldn't surprise if this project originally started out as a play, although that doesn't seem to be the case here. It certainly draws from similar single location narratives, like Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men, although in this case they know the accused is guilty of the social and emotional crimes against them. The why is the real mystery here. Rope is an interesting film to compare this to, as similarly, the person the party is based around is never seen on screen, but is never not a topic of discussion. And boy, there's a lot of discussion.

All five of them have different reasons to feel aggrieved by their common enemy, and this film is in no real rush to tell us why. It's a purposely talky piece, finding its human drama in the commonality they find between the hitherto complete strangers they are in a room with; but it's also an incredibly self indulgent film that's not averse to a sing-a-long interlude and a stress relieving dancing scene (complete with flossing). There's a lot that adds genuinely interesting flavour to the plot, such as the debate as to how to cut an apple tart into five equal pieces when it would be much easier to cut it into six; something Lawrence considers bad luck considering the scenario they're collectively faced with. But sadly, the exploration of the decisions and conclusions they are making over the course of the night does hit fallow ground occasionally, making the (not extensive) runtime of 89 minutes seem overly long and, once again, self indulgent. It's a visually striking film, with the apartment bathed in neon hues, but at the end of the day there's only so much you can do to make a kitchen/diner look exciting.

It's certainly not without merit, offering frank and revealing discussions of sexuality (something that could only be presented as subtext in Hitchcock's Rope), and the cast are all uniformly solid in their varying roles, given a chance to bounce off each other in a variety of pairings in the oddest group therapy session you'll ever see. Unfortunately the stagey set up turns out to be a drawback the story can't overcome.

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