Pushing the audience’s suspension of disbelief to the limit, debut writer-helmer Alanta Kavaite’s “Fissures” has a documentary sound recorder figure out who killed her mother by using her skills to listen to sounds from the past. Pic plays as far-fetched as its premise indicates, though Kavaite deftly uses devices from the playbooks of French masters Henri-Georges Clouzot and Claude Chabrol as well as from Brian DePalma’s “Blow Out” to construct a mystery yarn with cinematic twists. Broad international theatrical play is a distinct possibility, with just-announced Yank remake (produced by Joe Dante and Elizabeth Stanley) upping its profile.
Unsettling tone is quickly established as Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne, in her most impressive perf since her debut in the Dardenne Brothers’ “Rosetta”) and her mother (Ludmila Mikael) drive along a country road and hit a deer. Next seen, Charlotte is doing some location recording in a massive sulfur hot spring when she is notified that her mom’s been murdered.
As in any number of Chabrol films set in the countryside, Charlotte returns to her mother’s village to find a host of suspicious folk. Nasty neighbor Ms. Blanc (Nadia Barentin) is overheard telling her slow-witted son Jerome that she’s glad that Charlotte’s mother is “out of the way,” while organic farmer Julien (Mathieu Demy) appears to hold secrets, and town mayor and wife (Etienne Chicot, Eva Ionesco) carry the heavy whiff of bourgeois corruption.
Investigating cop Brenot (Gilles David) casts a wide net but can’t snag the murderer. Charlotte, though, grows more resourceful by the reel, as she accidentally hears sounds from the past while doing some recordings in her mom’s extremely creaky house.
Discovering she can hear past sounds by placing her mic at a particular spot in the house, Charlotte pieces together the various incidents leading up to the murder. Her rather bizarre method includes placing strings across the living space to physically map each sound from the past. What soon appears onscreen is a different kind of Charlotte’s web that fills the house.
As ridiculous as concept may be, it achieves some credibility by the sheer will of Dequenne’s extremely determined performance, and an elaborate series of flashbacks matching the sounds Charlotte picks up. A certain emotional gravitas also emerges, as the daughter learns more about a mom she barely knew, including how her work as a tarot card reader had set many in the village against her.
As she showed in “Rosetta,” Dequenne is a seriously filmic actor, intent on conveying her character’s feelings through looks and reactions. The rest of the cast tends to play a bit too broadly, but never to the point of breaking the suspenseful mood.
Still, unlike Chabrol’s socially acute mysteries or Clouzot’s terrifying tales, pic fairly dissolves the moment it’s over or upon any serious reflection. Nonetheless, it looks great, care of Dominique Colin’s earthy lensing and Francois Emmanuelli’s production design that creates its own kind of monster house.