Of interest primarily as an experiment in narrative style, “Through the Forest” is less a cinematic tone poem than a hermetically sealed oddity. Latest from maverick French helmer Jean Paul Civeyrac (“All the Fine Promises”) is intended as meditation on life and death, loss and transcendence, but self-conscious technique muffles emotional frissons. Pic isn’t likely to travel far from insular world of the global fest circuit.
Barely 65 minutes long, “Through the Forest” unwinds as a series of 10 continuous shots, many of which begin with portentous title cards. Opening minutes are undeniably charming, as lovely Armelle (Camille Berthomier) arises from her lover’s bed, then converses with him as she tries a few new hairstyles. Scene achieves a Godardian exuberance when she suddenly bursts into song.
But her joy is short-lived: As the lights dim and the camera glides, aud realizes Armelle is fantasizing about a guy who died three months earlier.
Besotted with grief, Armelle continues to seek refuge in denial and unreality. Berenice (Alice Dubuisson), her bluntly pragmatic sister, strongly advises against such unhealthy behavior. But Roxanne (Morgane Hainaux), her more mystical-minded sibling, thinks Armelle should seek the services of a medium, which she does.
At the medium’s salon, Armelle spots Hippolyte (Aurelien Wiik), a dead ringer for her late lover. Pic appears ready to turn into a stalker melodrama as heroine continues to follow Hippolyte long after he indicates he is involved with someone else. Gradually, though, “Through the Forest” drifts even further into the fantastical — albeit in mater-of-fact fashion — as Armelle inexplicably gains the power to cloud minds and control wills. Alas, nothing good comes of this.
During the long continuous takes, lenser Celine Bozon serves Civeyrac well by giving pic a sense of dramatic momentum through graceful camera movement. And there’s no denying helmer’s ability to sustain a trancelike mood of free-floating dread. Ultimately, however, “Through the Forest” comes across as a high-toned ghost story infused with wearying pretentiousness.