×

Film Review: ‘Shock Waves — Diary of My Mind’

Ursula Meier returns in short, sharp form with this needling, fact-based moral puzzler, brilliantly performed by Fanny Ardant and Kacey Mottet Klein.

Director:
Ursula Meier
With:
Kacey Mottet Klein, Fanny Ardant

1 hour 10 minutes

The schoolroom drama genre is heavily populated with impassioned, benevolent literature teachers who don’t play by the book, looking on as young minds expand and flourish under their unusual instruction. But what if they get it wrong? What if the freeing of some minds spells danger for others? Such questions are raised — but never too patly answered — in “Shock Waves – Diary of My Mind,” Swiss director Ursula Meier’s short, riveting exploration of adolescent psychosis, teacherly responsibility, and the moral minefield that connects them. This horrifically fact-based story of a veteran French teacher (Fanny Ardant) made involuntarily complicit when one of her brightest students (Kacey Mottet Klein) commits double parricide benefits from frank but humane handling by Meier and her top-form stars alike: The results are subtly shocking but unsensationalized.

Running a very lean, well-packed 70 minutes, this high-impact miniature was produced for Swiss television as one in a quartet of compact character studies — “Shock Waves” is the name of the series — rooted in startling local crime cases. However, Meier’s entry, like Lionel Baier’s even shorter “First Name: Mathieu,” was selected to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, and despite its minimalist form, the cinema feels like this quiet nerve-knotter’s natural home. Multiple festival berths will follow, while Ardant’s arthouse name value should secure “Diary of My Mind” multi-platform distribution in certain territories.

For 19-year-old rising star Mottet Klein, meanwhile, the film completes a fascinating coming-of-age under his director’s devoted camera lens. Meier has tenderly followed the actor’s physical and thespian development her features “Home,” “Sister,” as well as in 2014’s documentary short “Kacey Mottet Klein, Naissance d’un acteur,” and the prodigious kid emerges from the chrysalis here as an actor of frightening power and vulnerability. Those qualities operate in tandem throughout his performance as Benjamin, a quiet, clever but deeply unhappy teen in small-town Switzerland who unceremoniously shoots both his parents at close range one Friday morning, before turning himself in to the authorities.

Before the murder, however, he has some homework to complete. Having been instructed to write a personal journal by his teacher Madame Fontanel (Ardant), Benjamin commits his advance confession and motivation for the crime to paper in lucid, literate detail, neatly parceling it up and posting it to Fontanel just before doing the deed. Days later, she’s forced to open it and read it in the presence of police, horrified to find that she’s unwittingly been made the boy’s confidante to such upsetting truths — though you can’t say he hasn’t thoroughly met the demands of her assignment. The police treat Fontanel with hostile skepticism, as if she were a knowing accessory, particularly when she mentions previous signs of psychological distress in his schoolwork that went unreported.

“Should I call the police every time I hear a hateful word?” she counters. Fontanel intends her classroom to be a safe creative space for her students, though Benjamin’s crime disturbingly proves the limitations of such sanctuary: What’s the line between an open mind and closed eyes? As an educator, she may have been out of her depth, yet it’s hard not to side with the devastated but defiant Fontanel as the law takes an increasingly anti-intellectual view of her role in the case: She’s admonished for recommending off-syllabus literature to Benjamin (including Rimbaud) that “risked giving him mad ideas,” while the boy’s own defence lawyer labels her a “bad influence.”

Ardant superbly plays Fontanel as a tight knot of devastation and defiance, self-doubt lining her face even as she softly stands her ground in the face of accusatory interrogation — those flickers of internal conflict registering strongly through d.p. Jeanne Lapoirie’s preference for inquisitive but warmly forgiving close-ups. It’s in her later scenes with Benjamin, however, that the film mostly tensely takes flight, the space between them brittle with anger, loneliness and a sorrowful sense of betrayal on both sides, leading into an unexpected twist of grace that wouldn’t ring true if the actors weren’t so edgily attuned to each other in the first place. Meier keeps a firm, minimalist grip on proceedings while giving her actors — and her audience — plenty of air to consider the untidy questions floating anxiously around them.

Film Review: 'Shock Waves — Diary of My Mind'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 19, 2018. Running time: 70 MIN. (Original title: "Ondes de choc — Journal de ma tête")

Production: (Switzerland) A Bande à Part Films production in co-production with Arte, SRG SSR, Radio Television Suisse. (International sales: Bande à Part Films, Lausanne.) Producers: Lionel Baier, Agnieszka Ramu, Françoise Mayor.

Crew: Director: Ursula Meier. Screenplay: Meier, Antoine Jaccoud. Camera (color): Jeanne Lapoirie. Editor: Nelly Quettier.

With: Kacey Mottet Klein, Fanny Ardant, Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, Carlo Brandt, Stéphanie Blanchoud, Jean-Quentin Châtelain. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • See Taylor Swift Unveil Feline Moves

    See Taylor Swift Unveil Feline Moves for First Time in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • CGR’s Immersive Premium Format Set for

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

  • Amazon Developing Original Series Based on

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Selah and the Spades,' Will Develop Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to “Selah and the Spades,” a gripping look at a prep school drug dealer, Variety has learned. The film marks the feature debut of writer and director Tayarisha Poe and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was a favorite with critics. Amazon has [...]

  • The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con

    The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con Parties and Activations

    Hollywood is heading down the California coast to San Diego because It’s time for 2019 Comic-Con International. The annual cosplay celebration officially kicks off tomorrow, July 18, with a preview happening tonight. Here, Variety gives you a guide to this year’s parties and activations. Make sure to check back for updates. Wednesday, July 17Amazon Prime [...]

  • The Wound African Cinema Berlin Film

    Finance Forum Brings African WIP Into Focus at Durban FilmMart

    The 10th edition of the Durban FilmMart, which unspools parallel to the 40th Durban Intl. Film Festival, will feature 10 fiction and 10 documentary works-in-progress taking part in its annual Finance Forum. The leading co-production market on the continent, the Forum brings together producers, distributors, sales agents, broadcasters, funding bodies, and other industry players from across the [...]

  • The Lion King

    'The Lion King' Looks to Roar Life Into Domestic Box Office

    Hollywood just can’t wait for “The Lion King” to hit theaters. That’s because Disney’s highly anticipated remake is expected to draw herds of moviegoers at a time when ticket sales are seriously struggling. Box office watchers predict that the studio’s grand return to the Pride Lands could become one of this year’s biggest hits. “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content