Electrifying drama and patience-testing talkfest are housed under the same roof of “Donoma,” a wildly uneven debut for Haitian-born, French-based one-man band Djinn Carrenard. Demanding attention on the strength of its riveting examination of love, faith and identity among a loosely connected group of Parisians, experimental pic would benefit from losing a good 20 minutes of the largely improvised dialogue. A challenging commercial road lies ahead following the film’s Pusan world preem, but fests and appropriate smallscreen outlets should check it out. Carrenard could be one to watch.
Pic dives into the middle of a heated discussion in a Spanish-language class for adults run by passionate teacher Analia (Emilia Derou-Bernal). Ordering scuzzy troublemaker Dacio (Vincente Perez) to stay behind after the lesson, Analia bursts into tears before making a sexually explicit advance on the younger man.
This opening section encapsulates the film’s strengths and weakness in a nutshell. The setup of the conflict rambles on too long, but when the dramatic turning point arrives, the results are gripping.
Faith and religion enter the picture in the compelling form of Salma (Salome Blechmans), Dacio’s sort-of g.f. A hippie chick from a wealthy family, Salma doesn’t believe in God, but claims to have stigmata and says the Almighty is sending her messages to crucify herself. Salma’s tense encounter in a church with Raine (Matthieu Longatte), a born-again Christian skinhead, reps one of the film’s most potent scenes.
Elsewhere, there’s Chris (Laura Kpegli), a photographer who has never experienced physical or emotional love and prefers to conduct “relationships” with random faces captured by her lens. Fascinated by Dama (Sekouba Doucoure), a stranger spotted in a subway, Chris proposes an affair without language. The couple’s silent bliss over several weeks is broken by the inevitable intrusion of the spoken word, at which point the story spins back a month to Dama’s bust-up with Leelop (Laetitia Lopez), also a photographer.
With his muscular, close-up direction and improvisational approach recalling Cassavetes’ “Shadows” (1959) and “Faces” (1968), Carrenard vividly examines how relationships can transform from tender to combustible in a moment, and vice versa. Penetrating truths in the raw dialogue and impressively uninhibited perfs by a largely unknown cast play a vital role in getting the messages across. Unifying theme across the film’s broad canvas is that everyone needs to believe in something or someone to stand any chance of attaining happiness.
Color-saturated, rough-and-ready visuals are in tune with what’s onscreen. Sound quality is occasionally marred by microphone glitches. English subtitles shown in Pusan will need a complete overhaul to correct frequent misspellings and grammatical errors.