Hardcore in every sense, “Process” reps one of the most adventurous works screened at this year’s Berlinale. Concerning a woman (Beatrice Dalle) preparing to commit suicide, pic played the fest accompanied by a live perf from composer John Cale with extra visuals, including footage of the bombing of Afghanistan, looping on a separate screen. Helmer-scribe C. S. Leigh displays a take-no-prisoners arthouse rigor with pic’s oblique storytelling and extreme imagery, including explicit footage of a threesome. Pic is already processing invites to more fests, but numerous walkouts during Berlinale screening suggest it may be too endurance-testing even for the extremism-friendly.
Film is composed of just 29 scenes, each shot in a single take. Eerily somber opening sequence depicts an actress (Dalle, harrowingly good) preparing to go on stage at Paris’ Bouffes de Nord theater with her actor-husband (Guillaume Depardieu); once there, she inexplicably falls mute. The audience, a field white faces in a darkened auditorium, look on in disbelief.
Next, Leigh cuts straight to a swish apartment where Dalle takes part in three-in-a-bed romp with two men (actor-director Daniel Duval and Sebastien Viala), complete with an apparent realism that makes Catherine Breillat films look positively wholesome. A subsequent scene in a bathroom using a body double with a mastectomy standing in for Dalle’s character partly explains her pursuit of abjection, although it becomes clear cancer is not even the half of her troubles.
Even with a script almost completely stripped of exposition, offering few clues to the story’s chronology (some scenes appear to be flashbacks), it’s clear this girl is having one lousy life. Her child is killed in a car crash. Her marriage breaks up under the subsequent strain. She becomes violently ill during her treatment for cancer. She even has an unexplained concentration-camp tattoo on her wrist, even though she’s obviously from the wrong generation to have been incarcerated by the Nazis.
Dalle’s gruesome assorted attempts at offing herself — drawn out in real-time scenes — pack an emotional wallop at crescendo. Pic proves this wayward thesp, a tabloid heroine in France, can pull out the stops when she needs to.
Helmer Leigh, a former screenwriter, as well as director of shorts “Nude Descending…” and “Far From China,” shows a laudable taste for envelope-pushing, all-too-rare even on the fest circuit these days. However, some of his more mannered tics, such as flashing up a title card at least five times throughout movie, verge on the irritating. Still, only someone with a bravely black of sense of humor would dare, as he does here, to play the Jam’s “That’s Entertainment” over closing credits straight after the grisly finale.
Luminous lensing by Yorgos Arvanitis, regular d.p. for Theo Angelopoulos, goes a long way making the movie palatable. Given the extremity of what’s shown, it’s something of a relief pic is mostly comprised of medium-long shots with only a handful of close-ups. Score by Cale at projection caught wavered between cool creepiness, emotional plangency and downright silliness. Soundtrack on distributed prints will differ slightly, according to the helmer.