A two-handed chamber drama in the tradition of “The Collector” and “Misery,” “Barracuda” announces a noteworthy talent in multi-skilled Philippe Haim, making his feature debut as a director. Creepy tale of an eccentric old man who sequesters a young neighbor sports fine perfs, an impressive score and bold, provocative production design. Only B.O. drawback is the subject matter — loneliness as an impetus to near-relentless cruelty. Pic succeeds more as a flashy calling card skillfully made on a budget than as commercial entertainment.
Clement (Jean Rochefort, in a flawless, nuanced turn) has a somber, meticulously maintained apartment that is a shrine to the era of suave musical comedies and his personal hero, Fred Astaire. He lives in a world of his own that turns into a nightmare for his unsuspecting new neighbor, comic-book artist Luc (Guillaume Canet).
Clement invites him over for Sunday dinner, but in the aftermath of his housewarming party and the announcement by his girlfriend (Claire Keim) that she’s pregnant, Luc forgets. Peeved, Clement insists that the young man join him and his wife, Violette.
Violette turns out to be a spooky, life-size plastic mannequin with whom Clement interacts as he would with a real woman. After a polite interval, Luc attempts to depart, only to encounter a sharp blow to the head. He awakes to find himself handcuffed to the bathroom sink and gagged. Things go downhill from there.
Clement’s idea of keeping his guest comfortable is not for the squeamish: a padded, windowless room lit by Christmas tree lights, with a central spike to which Luc’s foot is manacled. As well as bending to Violette’s powerful whims, Clement also gets vivid advice from his personal visions of Astaire.
Clement’s hair-trigger lunacy is conveyed via Rochefort’s kindly face and outrageous actions. Newcomer Canet holds his own in what becomes a long, punishing haul. Keenly conceived widescreen lensing and excellent sound design make the claustrophobic proceedings slightly more palatable, although the viewing experience is far from pleasant.
Haim, an award-winning composer and arranger-orchestrator — he penned the score for Tavernier’s “Fresh Bait” — composed the principal themes concurrent with writing the script. From a music-box-style melody, through honky-tonk piano with tap dancing, to a full-blown musical comedy finale, the score provides ironic counterpoint to the dark proceedings.