Wild Games” is a stripped-bare psychodrama that’s more tease than delivery. Recalling the ’80s mind-game dramas of Michel Deville, but without their highly tuned scripts, Belgian helmer Benoit Lamy draws two good performances from his leads, French actor Richard Bohringer and German song diva Ute Lemper, and keeps the pot bubbling for much of the pic’s length until a weak payoff. Pic may find limited arthouse play in some Euro territories, but no feeding frenzy from auds or buyers.
Charles Cuvelier (Bohringer) is a successful advertising exec who goes to check out an ad for a luxury bachelor apartment in a marbled, art deco-ish block. Just before it reaches the fourth floor, the ornate central-well elevator breaks down, trapping him. A woman comes out of her apartment but refuses to help, and he ends up spending the night in the cramped space.
Next morning, the woman, Carole Valmer (Lemper), who placed the ad, has breakfast on the floor in front of him, and an elaborate sexual-psychological game ensues. She claims to have called the repairman, who’s coming at noon; Charles bullies and blusters that he has to make a noon meeting and accuses her of being in league with his business rival. Finally, she says he must seduce her to be given his freedom: How about dinner? Is he free tonight?
While she’s out during the day, Charles tries unsuccessfully to escape from the elevator. That night, she lets him wash and shave, and organizes a Hungarian Gypsy band for their split-level, candlelit dinner. Charles forces himself into a big romantic speech, but she rejects it as “sounding like a commercial.” After a second night in the elevator, the third — and crucial — day dawns.
Pic’s most successful section is the first half, when the drama is still pregnant rather than fully formed. The svelte, immaculately groomed Lemper, with her enigmatic smile, makes a fine contrast to Bohringer’s emotional, blustering exec, who’s used to getting his way, especially with women. But for auds to accept the stylized drama, pic requires more gripping, trenchant dialogue. Though the two thesps are well matched at a psychological level, there are almost no sexual sparks between them to keep alive the game of male-female tease. And when Bohringer is finally set free, there’s no major twist or revelation to justify what is basically a psychological shaggy-dog yarn.
Production values are good, with Lemper’s Cerruti wardrobe in tune with the careful production design and Charlie Van Damme’s mostly attractive lensing. Bruno Coulais’ spiky, rhythmic, classical-style score evokes further memories of Deville’s past pics.