Gallic helmer Juliette Garcias makes an impressive debut with “Be Good,” an atmospheric psychological thriller about a young femme stalker obsessed with her first love. Between the disturbingly eerie perf by rising star Anais Demoustier (which earned her a 2010 Cesar nomination for most promising actress) and the palpable menace with which Garcias imbues the pastoral French countryside, pic’s stylistic mastery never falters, greatly aided by Julien Hirsch’s magnificent cinematography. Unfortunately, Garcias’ script traffics so heavily in mystery that once the secret is revealed, however sensationalistic, the film has nowhere else to go. Niche arthouse play seems a possibility.
Eve (Demoustier), as the heroine calls herself (though, as her putative employers discover, Eve is not the name on her driver’s license), is one strange young lady. Indeed, it’s obvious from the get-go that something is askew, even apart from her habit of fabricating or embellishing particulars of her life. This oddness seems not to bother the owners of a bakery who hire her to deliver bread in the surrounding rural areas.
While faithfully following her daily, doughy itinerary, Eve begins to circle one house in particular, that of a pianist, his concert-singer wife and their baby. She even returns at night, navigating the woods by moonlight. She corners the pianist at a performance in a cloister, where her mere presence — never mind her veiled threats and sexual overtures — plainly terrifies him. Unfortunately, the film gives the pianist, portrayed by the usually excellent Bruno Todeschini, little to do beyond radiating fear and guilt; the secrecy surrounding the link between him and his stalker severely limits his character’s development.
Fortunately, Demoustier is allowed to exploit her enigmatic presence to more nuanced, layered effect. Unlike Francois Ozon, with his unremittingly creepy teen femme in “See the Sea,” director Garcias affords constant glimpses of the normal young woman Eve might have been as she interacts with country folk on her delivery route or sits by a lake with a personable young man. At the same time, her otherness casts an air of potential horror over even her most benign acts as she clips an old lady’s toenails or cuddles a baby.
Garcias never stops telegraphing just how disturbed Eve is, not only via her frequent space-outs but also in her increasingly odd behavioral tics. Perhaps most memorably, Eve plunges her hand in a pail full of escargots, in a strange inversion of the unforgettable image of a snail inching up a dead girl’s thigh in Bunuel’s “Diary of a Chambermaid.” But in Garcias’ aesthetically adventuresome near-miss, Eve ultimately registers as a passive victim who embraces her victimization, as destiny and as living reproach.