A portrait of the nature of anxiety as much as of its central character, “That Woman,” written for Josiane Balasko — who excels as a cop plagued by grief-triggered insomnia — is elaborate and effectively creepy. A police procedural marbled with suicide, nightmares, hooded harbingers of evil and, uh, bunny rabbits, pic sustains a mood of gloom and intrigue but eschews neat conclusions or explanations. Sure to be an attention-getter in French-lingo markets, this is a worthy addition to contempo French cinema sidebars.
Rather than aiming to clear up everything at the end, scripter-helmer Guillaume Nicloux aims for everything becoming marginally less murky. Carefully crafted and well-thesped result is a moody, incident-laden variation on the stereotypical European art film: The public is invited into the life of a reserved, self-sufficient but troubled character who happens to be a cop. At pic’s end, viewers have lived through some harrowing experiences with her. Auds who collect narrative loose ends will be thrilled; others may or may not settle for a tightly controlled jigsaw exercise, magnificently lit by ace d.p. Pierre-William Glenn.
Divorced police captain Michele Varin (Balasko, impressively sober) is still grieving for her 8-year-old son, who died on a leap year day, and Feb. 29 is only a week away. Distinct white letters and numbers against a black background indicate the exact date and time, starting with 9:50 p.m. on Feb. 21.
Michele, who works on jigsaw puzzles late into the night, lives alone with her late son’s ailing rabbit. As insomnia takes its toll, eventually producing vivid nightmares even during daytime catnaps, Michele and co-worker Sylvain (Eric Caravaca) try to solve the suspicious suicide of a woman with a scarred back who hanged herself in the woods.
In the course of the investigation, Michele meets banged up private investigator Maneri (Thierry Lhermitte who, in this same role, was the central character in Nicloux’s previous pic, the equally somber and convoluted “A Private Affair”); lumber yard worker Daniel (Frederic Pierrot); and a peculiar young boy who lives with his mom in a trailer near the suicide site.
Arguably, Nicloux piles on psychological ingredients and eerily lit dialogue scenes the way flashy Hollywood productions compile shootouts and car chases more or less for the hell of it, to create cinematic sensations.
Pic’s gambit is to keep viewers as relentlessly off-kilter as protags, using a shivers-up-the-spine score by composer Eric Demarsin to foster constant unease. Lensing and editing are accomplished, with a few too many Lelouch-like swirls. Cold, rainy, forlorn decor matches Michele’s state of mind.