Film Review: ‘Ogres’

Writer-director Lea Fehner ably corrals a hectic picaresque immersion in the life of a melodramatic theatre troupe. 

Adele Haenel, Marc Barbe, Lola Duenas, Francois Fehner, Marion Bouvarel, Ines Fehner, Philippe Cataix.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4466872/

The traveling theater troupe depicted in the colorful French drama “Ogres” idolizes the breaking down of conventional boundaries, presenting Chekhov in cabaret format nightly in different locations. Their compulsive worship of freedom above all else also applies to their personal lives: Messy intergenerational entanglements are what drive sophomore helmer Lea Fehner’s character study of this loose band of free spirits. A leisurely running time and limited international name appeal — the presence of rising star Adele Haenel notwithstanding — may make the film a moderately tough sell outside of France, but an audience award at Rotterdam signals that this is an absorbing and accessible watch; domestic prospects seem rosy. 

“Ogres” is a family affair in more ways than one. Starring Fehner’s real-life mother, father and sister alongside half a dozen actors of mixed experience, it is about families both biological and circumstantial. Interrogating the tightly knit bonds that both cradle and trap this gypsy-esque theatrical company, Fehner creates a naturalistic impression of life on the road. The plot, such as it is, is a simple one. The company travels from place to place, dealing with any obstacles that arise: The show must go on, after all. That any impediments are almost always self-generated doesn’t seem to matter. The troupe runs on its own combustible energy, and a quiet life would be boring.

The pic is undoubtedly an ensemble piece, but Haenel — at 27, already a two-time Cesar winner — is especially affecting and plausible as Mona, one of the younger adults, pregnant by M. Deloyal (Marc Barbe), a circus ringmaster of sorts. Haenel communicates with precision the tough naivete that helps us understand why she might have been attracted to Deloyal’s binge-drinking, troublemaking ways in the first place — but also why she is, despite his issues, subsequently able to stick around.

As the casting of her family suggests, Fehner drew from her own life experience in conceiving the project, having grown up in a similar milieu in the 1990s. This is likely the reason that the community’s youngest children, while confined to the margins of the narrative, also provide some of the film’s best incidental moments: running wild around the camp, dressing up in theatrical paraphernalia, occasionally stealing from customers and otherwise getting into unsupervised scrapes.

The hectic claustrophobia of the troupe is sometimes a grating experience, and these group histrionics are surely faithful to their real-world source. To Fehner’s credit, the pic is at pains not to let these often monstrously immature “ogres” off the hook, nor to overly romanticize their way of life — which, while largely free from the soul-crushing strictures of the mortgages or pensions they disdain, often takes the form of an arrested childhood, preserved via immersion in alcohol. At times, it’s all in danger of veering into soap-opera territory.

Still, when it works, it really works. One electrifying scene sees dejected wife Marion (Marion Bouvarel) brokenly bemoan the infidelities of her husband, Francois (Francois Fehner), only for him to round on her and suggest she should have an affair. Picking up the baton, Deloyal begins a kind of impromptu auction: Who will pay for this woman, and how much? On the surface, it’s a cruel gesture, but the evening of spontaneity that ensues proves this is a film that can practice what it preaches. Where independent cinema sometimes conceals a rather puritanical attitude to sexual freedom where women are concerned, “Ogres” is the genuine article.

Co-scripter Brigitte Sy is better known for her onscreen work (including roles in four Philippe Garrel films), and perhaps helped bring an actor’s perspective to the screenplay. Certainly, this is a film that gives almost every member of the ensemble the emotional highs and lows that performers covet. Also on scripting duties with Fehner and Sy is Catherine Paille, who previously partnered with Fehner on her debut feature, “Silent Voice.” The three-way writing credit further suggests a film guided by fruitful collaboration rather than the singularity of vision that can, for better or worse, dominate more classically hierarchical auteur cinema.

Even tech roles are replete with insiders: The editing is by Fehner’s husband, Julien Chigot, who establishes an easy, seasonal rhythm in the life of the gang. D.p. Julien Poupard’s widescreen lensing similarly takes in the show with appropriately wide-eyed wonder.

Taking an audience award at Rotterdam handily guarantees the film Dutch distribution: “Ogres” is a worthy recipient of this resource, the kind of film audiences will enjoy, assuming they can be persuaded into the theater in the first place. If other international distribs can show the same kind of hustle the troupe does — in one scene, they litter the streets with fliers, demonstrating in miniature the charms that await in the big top — they could enjoy the kind of word-of-mouth success for which the film’s characters would gladly give their front teeth.

Film Review: 'Ogres'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Voices), Jan. 30, 2016. Running time: 144 MIN. (Original title: “Les Ogres”)  

Production: (France) A BUS Films production, in co-production with France 3 Cinema, in association with Pyramide, Indefilms 3. (International sales: Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Philippe Liegeois.

Crew: Directed by Lea Fehner. Screenplay, Catherine Paille, Brigitte Sy, Fehner. Camera (color, widescreen), Julien Poupard; editor, Julien Chigot; music, Philippe Cataix; music supervisors, Matthieu Chabaud, Benjamin Fillola; production designer, Pascale Consigny; costume designer, Caroline Delannoy, Sylvie Heguiaphal; sound, Julien Sicart; supervising sound editor, Pierre Bariaud; re-recording mixer, Olivier Goinard; line Producer, Luc Martinage; associate producer, Hugo Rubini; assistant director, Hadrien Bichet; casting, Sarah Teper.

With: Adele Haenel, Marc Barbe, Lola Duenas, Francois Fehner, Marion Bouvarel, Ines Fehner, Philippe Cataix.

More Film

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    LGBTQ Groups Backing SAG-AFTRA in Member Privacy Fight Against IMDb

    SAG-AFTRA has announced that a coalition of national LGBTQ groups is backing the union in its fight for member privacy against IMDb. The groups include the National LGBTQ Task Force, the country’s oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group; GLAAD; the Transgender Law Center; the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund; Transcend Legal, Inc.; and Equality Federation. [...]

  • Myst Computer Game

    'Myst' Film and TV Rights Sell to Village Roadshow

    “Myst,” the influential video game that helped usher in the CD-ROM era, may inspire an ambitious multi-platform film and television universe. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the co-producer and co-financier of the “Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” franchises, has acquired the rights to the first-person graphic adventure. For those born post-90s, “Myst” was wildly popular and hailed [...]

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Earns

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content