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Film Review: ‘Flesh of My Flesh’

A spaced out mom puts her daughter on a high-protein diet in a French cannibal flick short on gore, long on arty abstraction.

With:

Anna Juliana Jaenner, Mathieu Charriere, Francois Smesny, Louis Sebastien, Grace.

In Denis Dercourt’s oddly sparse “Flesh of My Flesh,” a spaced-out blonde lures, kills and chops up men to feed her ailing 6-year-old daughter. Though the gruesome plot fills the bill, genre-wise, “Flesh” often seems like an empty stylistic exercise instead of a horror film. The more Dercourt busily deploys different lenses to produce shifting out-of-focus patches within the frame, the more the absence of backstory to explain what’s lurking behind the heroine’s blank eyes feels like gratuitous omission. Though the pic may initially draw cannibal-happy auds, its arty affects and infrequent blood splatters make for a meager menu. 

Aside from tender moments of affection when caring for her daughter and practiced smiles and simulated expressions of sexual interest when stalking her prey, Anna (Viennese actress Anna Juliana Jaenner) presents a perfectly blank face to the camera, with no hint of interiority or animation. This blankness, if initially somewhat frightening, soon loses its power to generate unease.

Ultimately, the film comes to mirror Anna’s lack of interaction with her environment, staying almost entirely focused on its heroine’s perambulations. Even Anna’s stints as cleaning lady/babysitter in an upscale home register only in her confused feelings toward its two healthy children and her curious refusal to feed them meat. Instead, we find her thin-slicing tomatoes and cucumbers with the same concentrated gestures she used to slice human fingers for her daughter’s meals.

Dercourt’s most successful film, the 2006 Chabrol-esque revenge drama “The Page Turner,” transpired in an opulent, well-peopled milieu of classical music makers that contrasted nicely with its icy blonde protagonist’s vengeful machinations. But in this shoestring opus, the bare walls, corridors and staircases of the colorless apartments, the white-walled sanitarium, the sterile laundromat and the featureless university cafeteria navigated by Anna neither complement nor contrast her single-minded quest to feed her child.

Dercourt, who also shot and edited the film, uses a wide selection of different lenses placed at varying distances from the camera to produce partial blurry areas within the frame, manifesting more interest in the surface appearance of the image than in what it contains. Apparently, the aleatory blurriness is meant to represent the distortion of his heroine’s perception, but applied with no readable pattern or aesthetic, the stylistic conceit becomes more annoying than indicative.

Clearly, Anna ranks right up there in the pantheon of very disturbed individuals, but the viewer can neither participate in her disturbance nor fully react to that which it disturbs. Even a supposedly surprising reveal (in fact, fairly obvious from the outset) fails to reconfigure the film’s parameters.

Except for the fine score by Jerome Lemonnier, “Flesh” is basically a one-man show, with little outside input — which perhaps explains the lack of distance between the filmmaker and his heroine, both locked in their respective heads.

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Film Review: 'Flesh of My Flesh'

Reviewed at "Film Comment Selects," Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, Feb. 22, 2014. Running time: 75 MIN. (Original title: "La chair de ma chair")

Production:

(France) A Zootrope Films presentation of a French Connection/Cinema Alexanderplatz production. Produced by Denis Dercourt, Alexis Dantec, Fred Bellaiche.

Crew:

Directed, written by Denis Dercourt. Camera (color, HD), Dercourt; editor, Dercourt; music, Jerome Lemonnier; sound, Dercourt.

With:

Anna Juliana Jaenner, Mathieu Charriere, Francois Smesny, Louis Sebastien, Grace.

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