What starts out as an atmospheric police thriller with Freudian overtones begins to teeter on the edge of the ridiculous about halfway through helmer Pierre Erwan Guillaume’s feature debut “The Natural Enemy.” An uneven tale of repression and obsession along the coast of Brittany, pic’s revelation proves deflating at the same moment the object of obsession is ready to achieve its, well … biggest impact. Beautifully shot with a talented cast, there’s still no escaping the thought that a little penis envy goes a long way. Home release made barely a dent, while fest run is nearing its shelf life.
When a young man’s body is found among the boulders of the Breton coast, Lt. Luhel (Jalil Lespert, “Not on the Lips”) is called to investigate. Local cops believe it’s an accident, but the boy’s mother (Lucy Russell) is convinced her ex-hubby Serge Tanguy (Aurelien Recoing) was responsible for their son’s death.
At first unwilling to draw conclusions, Luhel becomes suspicious once he locates the drunk, naked Tanguy sleeping off a bender in his wood shed. The contrasts between the two men are manifold: Luhel is dry, rational and passionless, whereas Tanguy alternates between semi-violence and dark introspection. The more the cop digs into his suspect’s monumental sexual appetite, the more like a witch-hunt the investigation becomes. Soon he ignores pleas from wife Nathalie (Florence Loiret-Caille) to come home, and imagines Tanguy is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his school-age daughter, Adele (Doria Achour).
Like some kind of enormous, flaccid magic wand, Tanguy’s penis seemingly casts a spell over Luhel, pushing him into increasingly erratic behavior. Sublimating his desire into an unquenchable vindictive anger, the policeman’s destructive drive gets overplayed, while the story’s initial subtlety and edge of hysteria are jettisoned for all-out lunacy.
Director Guillaume’s strong point is his feel for landscape. Through dark, silent panoramas he creates a probing commentary on the unexpected rages unsettling Luhel’s normally rational exterior. But the ravishing seascapes become less important as the pic wears on, as if a recognition of its function lessens their usefulness.
Thesping is mostly on a high level, and Recoing, so memorable in “All Winter Without Fire” and “Time Out,” brings a high degree of shading to his volatile role; seeing him naked certainly adds dimension to his persona. Pierre Milon’s superb, quiet lensing adds greatly to a sense of gravitas and depth.