It can’t be easy to find the right roles for Yolande Moreau, whose brutishly unladylike features often appear in sharp contrast with the soft-spoken dignity of her characters. In “The Long Falling,” director Martin Provost follows up the pair’s Cesar-winning collaboration on “Seraphine” with another part perfectly suited to the actress, albeit one considerably less likely to attract the popular and critical support necessary to break out beyond Gaul screens — a shame, considering the poignant turn Moreau gives as a long-suffering Belgian hausfrau who enjoys a brief window of freedom after killing her tyrannical husband in this low-key psychological thriller.
“She had no memory of love.” That’s how novelist Keith Ridgway describes the tragic central figure in his soulful suspenser, which Provost and co-writer Marc Abdelnour have transposed from the Irish hinterlands to a rural Belgian backwater for the film — a far cry from the relatively pastoral period setting of “Seraphine.” While he may not be a visionary director, Provost is an especially sympathetic one, and with “The Long Falling,” the helmer seeks to understand a character so far removed from affection that she sees murder as the only escape from the abusive hell married life entails.
There’s something almost animalistic about Rose, the haggard fiftysomething farmer’s wife Moreau plays here. With shoulders hunched and eyes that skittishly reveal a history of physical abuse, she tries to stay out of her husband’s way (grizzled Eric Godon plays the monster in question), but even feigning sleep in bed she is a target for his drunken tirades. Their son Thomas (a scrawny, insecure Pierre Moure) escaped to Brussels the first chance he got, and now Rose is the only one left to suffer her husband’s cruelty — which she nobly endures, until the night he recklessly hits a young woman while driving home from a bar.
Rose, who must learn to drive while her husband serves a short prison sentence, sees this accident as the final insult, and she karmically puts him out of her misery. Though she is no mastermind and has done little to cover her tracks, Rose is so relieved to be liberated that she immediately heads to Brussels to visit her son, whose new life with an older gay lover (“The Misfortunates’?” Valentijn Dhaenens) perplexes her. In a court of law, few might forgive Rose’s crime, and yet Moreau perfectly captures the decades of dehumanization that led her to this point.
Although the book reads like one long exhalation, a weary sigh of relief after years of pent-up frustration, Ridgway creates a kind of suspenseful momentum on the page almost completely absent from this adaptation. Instead, the film focuses on the more mood-specific elements of the novel, embracing its genre-subverting sense of melancholy with polite detachment, handsomely lensed by Agnes Godard: We feel for the killer, who has nowhere to go and yet deserves to get there all the same.
Abandoned by her son, Rose’s only accomplice is a kindly widow with an appetite for crime novels (a terrific Edith Scob) who intuitively knows how to respond to just such a situation, stirring a “Thelma and Louise” like third-act adventure that feels pathetically anticlimactic in contrast with the shocking suddenness of pic’s opening scene.