Manages to wrench emotion via slow-burn buildup and strong perfs, particularly from Beatrice Dalle.

A gay teenager watches his beloved aunt hit rock bottom with alcohol in “Domaine,” a tender, tragic love story of sorts from first-time helmer Patric Chiha. Although a little too portentous and protracted for its own good, the pic nevertheless manages to wrench emotion via slow-burn buildup and strong perfs, particularly from Beatrice Dalle, revealing here inky new depths as a thesp. Her name should help push the film into the public domain offshore, while a queer romance subplot, though not the pic’s main course, should appeal to gay fests.

In contempo Paris, high school student Pierre (newcomer Isaie Sultan, good) prefers to spend his free time going for long walks with his aunt Nadia (Dalle), a mathematician whose work incorporates ideas from Kurt Godel, best known for his incompleteness theorems. The two discuss, among other subjects, Nadia’s past and her belief that beauty resides in order. Sadly, her own life grows increasingly disorderly as her drinking gets further out of control.

Pierre’s mother, Jeanne (Tatiana Vialle), Nadia’s sister, tries to warn him off Nadia and persuade him to hang out with kids his own age. He shrugs her off at first, but his need to explore his own homosexuality leads to a successful bit of cruising that lands him cute b.f. Fabrice (Manuel Marmier). His new romance means less time spent with Nadia, who reacts jealously, almost like a spurned lover, and spirals further into her addiction.

Austrian-born writer-helmer Chiha, who’s made various shorts, refrains admirably from spelling things out too bluntly. Nadia’s financial circumstances are signaled by the sudden disappearance of dresses in her wardrobe, and then in another scene, almost all the decoration in her flat is gone, suggesting she’s been pawning stuff to get money for booze. An assortment of her friends are met in the opening scene, a party on the beach, and then gradually, they all stop showing up, apart from sinister barfly Samir (Alain Libolt).

On the debit side, the pic is just a little too pleased with its own solemn austerity — shots linger a little too long, potential endings are too numerous and there are definitely too many songs sung in entirety by a male character whose stage name is Joan Crawford, reinforcing the impression that the pic is all about the ups and downs of fag-hag crushes.

Dalle, however, is aces throughout. Looking positively magisterial now with a few extra matronly pounds round the middle, she strides commandingly through the pic exuding “F-you” attitude, like Cleopatra in five-inch stilettos. Perhaps drawing on her own well-documented tussles with substance abuse, the thesp brings proper authenticity to Nadia’s decline without resorting to self-pity or scene-chewing excess. No doubt some will scoff at the very notion of her playing a mathematician, but she’s surprisingly convincing here (despite excessively upmarket designer threads), perhaps because the script never requires her to do anything properly mathematical outside buying a drink.

Craft contributions are adequate but no great shakes. Pascal Poucet’s lensing is too murky in the night scenes, and the score by fey femme singer Milkymee is a little too cutesy to suit the material.

Domaine

France-Austria

Production

An Aurora Film (France)/Wildart Films (Austria) production, with the participation of CNC, Region Aquitaine, CineCinema, the Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture, Land Niederoesterreich, Land Oberoesterreich. (International sales: Wide, Paris.) Produced by Charlotte Vincent. Co-producers, Ebba Sinzinger, Vincent Lucassen. Directed, written by Patric Chiha.

Crew

Camera (color), Pascal Poucet; editor, Karina Ressler; music, Milkymee; set decoration, Celine Cayron, Maria Gruber; costume designer, Pierre Canitrot; sound (Dolby Digital), Walter Fiklocki. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 6, 2009. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

W ith: Beatrice Dalle, Isaie Sultan, Alain Libolt, Raphael Bouvet, Sylvie Rohrer; Udo Samel, Tatiana Vialle, Bernd Birkhahn, Manuel Marmier. (French, German, English dialogue)
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