Though set in today’s Switzerland, Severine Cornamusaz’s confident debut feature, “Animal Heart,” might as well unfold in Thomas Hardy’s milieu, so little does modernity impact this tale of the havoc a farmer’s misanthropy wreaks on his own life and those around him. Engrossing drama’s straightforward storytelling may lack the large scale or distinctive style to win extensive theatrical exposure outside French-speaking Europe, but will score with fest auds and select ancillary buyers.
With access to his ancestral land frequently blocked by rockslides, taciturn Paul (Olivier Rabourdin) prefers to keep humanity at a cold distance. He treats his livestock considerably better than he does his long-suffering wife, Rosine (Camille Japy), or new farmhand, Eusebio (Antonio Buil), an easygoing Spaniard. When Rosine complains of belly pain, Paul assumes she’s pregnant at last; it’s Eusebio who realizes she might instead be seriously ill. When Paul brutally expresses his suspicion that the other two are having an affair, Rosine finally walks out, further enraging him. Solidly crafted and acted pic appears headed toward tragedy, yet ultimately pulls off a measure of hard-won redemption. Pro package is topped by excellent widescreen lensing of spectacular Alpine scenery.