“The Missing Half” is a strange, frequently disturbing film about a young woman expecting twins who decides to abort one of them. The psychological consequences of this act and the self-healing process she goes through, are delicately traced in her friendship with a mentally handicapped boy. Though the subject at first appears to have little more than morbid interest, in the hands of highly original Belgian helmer Benoit Mariage (“The Carriers Are Waiting”) and his sensitively directed cast, it leaves a deep impression. With critical support and careful handling, pic could find its way to arthouse audiences.
When the doctor tells Claire (Dominique Baeyens) she’s going to have twins, her optometrist husband Pierre (Philippe Grand’Henry) is far more delighted than she is. Her fear and anxiety, which have no apparent cause, grow as they shop for double strollers, until she finally opts to abort an embryo. Pierre seems to go along with her, but the shock of watching the doctor inject a lethal substance is too much for him. He jumps on the couple’s bicycle built for two and disappears.
Facing her pregnancy and guilt alone, Claire begins to become a sympathetic character. She starts visiting one of Pierre’s patients, Laurent (Laurent Kuenhen), who lives in a home for the handicapped. Their relationship, though full of misunderstandings, leads her to coach the home’s residents in a Christmas play and to emerge from her painful solitude.
Avoiding facile condemnation or easy answers, Mariage puts viewers face to face with the paradox of a woman who chooses to give both life and death. The film’s quiet, meditative tone helps auds to reflect deeply on things that are not readily explicable. The “other” or “missing half” of the title ends up suggesting various meanings.
Baeyens gives a very contained performance that emphasizes Claire’s slightest emotional turn. Grand’Henry’s memorable face has a gentleness that makes Pierre’s sudden, unrealistic departure seem less like desertion and more a symbolic reaction of horror at what they’ve done. Wrapped in their solitude and unable to communicate with each other, they each find in Kuenhen’s dignified, hypersensitive Laurent a way to express themselves through another person.
Philippe Guilbert’s lensing has a tenderness very much in tune with the film’s meditative spirit, like Olivier Bilquin’s discreetly used music track.