If you thought David Dunn, Bruce Willis’ character from M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable,” was a melancholy superhero, he’s the life of the party compared to Dominick, a Parisian introvert whose power to turn invisible has made him profoundly unhappy in the French drama “Blind Spot.” The third feature from directing duo Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic (“The Other One”) is an absorbing, minor-key take on a superhero saga that stealthily works in plenty of ideas about identity and loss. If the French film industry wants to get into the superhero game, this slow-moving but rewarding character study, which premiered earlier this year at Cannes’ ultra-indie ACID sidebar, could help create a promising niche when it opens in France this October. It’s a risky pickup for North America, but the potentially provocative choice of a black actor to play an invisible man could lead to free think-piece publicity and specialty box office dividends.
Jean-Christophe Folly toplines as Dominick, a quietly tormented music-store employee who’s had the ability since birth to turn invisible. Like any red-blooded heterosexual male teenager, he once used his power to ogle girls in the locker room. Now 38 years old, he finds that this central component of his identity, which he’s kept secret from nearly everyone except his immediate family, has him completely ambivalent and leading a life of deep sadness. At work he toils away in solitude, at home he lives in near darkness and on the street he’s always wearing headphones. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Viveka (Isabelle Carré), unaware of his power, maintains a good-natured resignation towards his disinterest in social gatherings.
From here, one can read the casting of a black man as Dominick as social statement or merely the colorblind hiring of a very good actor. Dominick’s skin warrants nary a mention except when callous partygoers remark that the white Viveka only dates black men out of “post-colonial guilt,” which is more a comment about her than Dominick. But, especially for American audiences, there’s no avoiding the memory of Ralph Ellison’s landmark 1952 novel “Invisible Man” and the parallel drawn here; that a part of Dominick as natural as his heart and his mind has rendered him an outcast and is something he cannot escape no matter how miserable it makes him.
Dominick’s fortunes begin to turn with the unexpected and unwanted reappearance of Richard (Sami Ameziane), who can also become invisible. Richard surmises that up to 2% of the population share their burden. And as they age, it might become more difficult to summon their invisibility or they might not have enough power to become visible again, all developments conveyed in a flat and sober style without a hint of Marvel-scale theatrics.
Indeed, Bernard and Trividic make the process of turning invisible blandly quotidian if slightly disturbing: to disappear Dominick removes all his clothes (we’re a long way from Claude Rains and his bandaged head) and takes rapid, deep breaths as if hyperventilating. He’s then free to skulk around naked which, at one point, leads to Dominick getting locked out of his apartment, a moment of light humor the film could have used more of. Also tantalizing are brief snapshots of how other invisibles employ their supposed gift, including Richard who admits to using it to scare people and “help myself to some things.”
As Dominick’s power becomes harder to control, things heat up with Elham (Golshifteh Farahani), a beautiful, blind musician whom Dominick had previously spied on while invisible. The two strike up a relationship with the irony not lost that it takes a blind person to see Dominick for who he truly is.
The movie’s wisp of a plot unfolds at a funereal pace and the slow parceling out of minimal information can become frustrating. Plus, scenes depicting a spate of suicides on the Paris Metro never feel fully connected to the rest of the goings-on. Otherwise, “Blind Spot” gets under your skin, helped by an ominous, understated score by co-director Bernard and moody images from DP Jonathan Ricquebourg (“Shéhérazade”) shot in a constricting 1.33:1.
It all services the notion that Dominick doesn’t need his powers to disappear when he’s already made himself as invisible as possible to the outside world. To emerge, he must tackle the question of what qualities define a person and what to do if you don’t like the answer. Being able to turn invisible sounds cool to us but for Dominick to simply pull up a chair and play a cigar box guitar is a superpower all its own.