In trying to turn Jean-Christophe Grange's young adult fantasy novel "The Stone Council" into a French "Sixth Sense," director Guillaume Nicloux takes a horribly wrong turn into a parallel universe where the inhabitants have watched far too many latenight movies.

In trying to turn Jean-Christophe Grange’s young adult fantasy novel “The Stone Council” into a French “Sixth Sense,” director Guillaume Nicloux takes a horribly wrong turn into a parallel universe where the inhabitants have watched far too many latenight movies. This generously budgeted piece of esoterica has been trumpeted as a new look at Italian star Monica Bellucci, but her short hair and played-down sex appeal won’t be enough to scare up an audience, unless it’s a very young one that hasn’t heard all these cliches before. Most likely, pic will soon be reincarnated on ancillary.

Nicloux, who is also a stage helmer and novelist, has shown a fondness for genre in the past in private-eye yarns like “Private Affair” and “Hanging Offense.” This venture into sci-fi/fantasy may have looked good on paper, but on the screen it’s the kind of silly film that gives New Age a bad name. The presence of diva Catherine Deneuve, playing a sinister neuropsychologist willing to stop at nothing to become immortal, is an aggravating factor.

Laura Siprien (Bellucci), an agreeably serious-minded interpreter living in Paris, adopts an Asian baby in central Russia. When little Liu-San (Nicolas Thau) turns 7, he begins to have visionsand speak in tongues — and a miniature crop circle becomes visible on his chest. “The mark has appeared!” hisses one sinister character to another on the phone, after Laura worriedly takes him to the family doctor.

Shades of “Rosemary’s Baby,” not only her doctor, but all her friends and acquaintances (Sami Bouajila, Elsa Zylberstein) seem to be in on a plot she can’t fathom. Liu-San is no fool, though, and senses her trusted friend Sybille (Deneuve), head of the Inyt Foundation, does not have his best interests at heart. Trying to escape her clutches, he and Mom get into a fearsome car accident. Later, police investigators inexplicably connect Laura to various gruesome murders that are happening around Paris.

When Liu-San is kidnapped by the forces of evil a Russian intelligence agent (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s hot for Laura, helps her realize her son is in central Asia and about to be sacrificed to a giant CGI beast at the same radioactive lab where her parents were murdered many years ago.

As several characters declaim, “Reality goes beyond our beliefs.”

On the plus side, the last part of the picture takes place in scenic Mongolia, where Peter Suschitzky’s wide-open lensing still feels spooky. And Bellucci deserves praise for her good-natured and on the whole convincing descent into scream queen territory, which really is a hitherto unseen side of her talents.

The Stone Council

France-Italy-Germany

Production

An 01 Distribution release (in Italy) of a UGC YM/Integral Film/RAI Cinema/TF1 Films Prod. co-production. (International sales: UGC, Paris.) Produced by Yves Marmion, Amgalanbayar Batbayar, Olivier Thaon. Directed by Guillaume Nicloux. Screenplay, Nicloux, Stephane Cabel, based on a book by Jean-Christophe Grange.

Crew

Camera (color), Peter Suschitzky; editor, Guy Lecorne; music, Eric Demarsan; production designer, Olivier Radot; costume designer, Judy Shrewsbury; sound (Dolby digital, DTS), Gerard Hardy; casting, Christelle Baras. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (Premiere), Oct. 17, 2006. Running time: 140 MIN.

With

Laura Siprien - Monica Bellucci Liu-San - Nicolas Thau Sybille - Catherine Deneuve Sergei - Moritz Bleibtreu Lucas - Sami Bouajila Clarisse - Elsa Zylberstein
With: Lorenzo Balducci, Nicolas Jouhet, Peter Bonke, Laurent Grevil, Jerzy Rogulski, Yoshi Oida.
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