A very Gallic kind of moody character drama, “Crawl” treads familiar waters in depicting a hesitant romance between two loners as contrasted with another couple’s marital woes in a cash-strapped seaside town. Herve Lasgouttes’ first feature is accomplished, but doesn’t develop the rooting interest or depth of the best of its type, a better concurrent example being the similar “Rust and Bone.” Lack of comparative star power and likely mixed critical response will make this watchable but unmemorable effort primarily of interest to fests and French-language telecasters offshore.
Without ambition or plans, young Martin (Swann Arlaud) leads a marginal existence in his Brittany hometown, accepting odd jobs in lieu of the steady ones he can’t keep, living with his widowed drunkard father (Jean-Marie Frin), and often resorting to petty theft to make ends meet. Older sis Gwen (Nina Meurisse), by contrast, is solidly bourgeois — gainfully employed, with two kids and a big modern house up the road. But she, too, is just scraping by, with husband Jean (Gilles Cohen) under pressure from developers to keep local building projects under cost by means legal or otherwise.
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As a result, Martin is hired under the table to help remodel the local cannery where Gwen is the inhouse nurse. Also working there is Corinne (Anne Marivin), a young woman who lives in a trailer, saving her money to realize a belated dream of becoming a competitive open-water swimmer in Mexico. She and Martin fall into a passionate on/off affair mostly roiled by his petulant mood swings. He stomps off for longer than usual upon discovering she’s pregnant; Jean is no less pleased when Gwen announces she’s expecting her own unplanned third child.
Things get even more complicated once Martin’s petty larceny gets him accused of something much worse, and providing his alibi could cost Jean a big contract.
It’s hard to know from either the script or Arlaud’s performance whether Martin is meant to be stupid, self-destructive or simply immature, distinctions that would help explain his more reckless decisions. He’s less than fascinating as pure enigma, while Marivin’s underwritten role is a bit of a blank. With Jean painted as a stereotypical yuppie jerk, the sole sympathetic character here is the grounded, conciliatory Gwen, who often seems to be in a different movie — one perhaps more ordinary, but also more psychologically and dramatically fleshed-out.
The rough-hewn, handheld look is par for the course. Still, Lasgouttes shows a facility for embedding a physical setting in the DNA of his story, which will surely serve him well in forthcoming projects.