Opening in the Gévaudan region of France in 1968, Jacques and Lou’s son César is born into a brutal and ugly world. His mother (Laetitia Casta) almost dies during what is a complicated birth, and amidst her screams, his grandmother warns the doctor that she will kill him if anything happens to her daughter. The boy’s father Jacques (Benoît Magimel) arrives late at the hospital in a drunken state and threatens the nurse in charge. Things are no better on his arrival into the outside world. Jacques, a veteran of the Algerian war, cannot find work and Lou discovers that he has been having an affair while she has been in hospital. The whole region itself seems poor and depressed, constantly shrouded in mist and rain.
Hoping for a better life, the family move south, and when we next see them in 1972 on the Mediterranean coast, things look a little better. Jacques has a job working for an estate agent selling holiday homes and the world is a bright and sunny place – but there are some problems that the family can’t leave behind. Despite everyone else being aware of the fact that Jacques is a drunk, a loser and a cheat, Lou believes he really loves his family and will do anything for him.
Damien Odoul’s film is pretty grim and bleak stuff that retains a consistent tone of barely repressed anger and violence. Other than a couple of brief, disturbing dream sequences, the film is shot in an appropriately harsh and direct manner, but Odoul’s direction lacks imagination, repetitively having the characters run through the same, mundane situations. Jacques is frequently shown twitching and staggering around in a drunken state, while Lou has nothing to do but dote over her son, put him to bed and protect him from his father’s behaviour and influence (César is seen going to bed an awful lot). These two types of broadly defined characters combine in scenes with Lou waking in bed to find Jacques either hasn’t come home or has arrived in a drunken state with his half-crazed friends who served time with him in Algeria.
Former model Laetitia Casta is surprisingly effective in such a sparse, intensely dramatic role. Perhaps I shouldn’t really be surprised, as she has performed well in anything I have seen her acting in so far (albeit the rather less challenging French TV wartime mini-series La Bicyclette Bleu and Patrice Leconte’s romantic melodrama Rue des Plaisirs), but what is so good about her here is that her understated performance is more realistically and naturally pitched than Benoît Magimel (Les Enfants du Siècle, The Piano Teacher), who clearly puts in the extra effort by going as far as to put 12kg on for the role (and taking every opportunity to show you his beer-belly in the film), but nevertheless tries much too hard to appear wild and crazy. His swagger looks forced and he is unable to consistently remain credibly in character.
There is not much character examination beyond Lou’s protective mother role and Jacques drunken waster, nor is there much variety in the confrontations that the clashing of these respective character types gives rise to, but interspersed with the rather disturbing dream sequences, they do have a raw, brutal power. The everyday mundanity of the situations and the period and location in which they are set suggests that there are some autobiographical elements – the director comes from the Gévaudan region – but neither the direction, situations or acting, nor the film’s violent, confusing and quite out of place ending, are really up to the Maurice Pialat-style brutal realism Odoul is clearly striving towards.
Tartan release Errance on a Region 0 DVD as part of their Ciné Lumière collection. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in PAL format.
The picture quality on this release is good, handling the various tones and textures of the film very well, from the damp, misty-mountain dullness of the opening scenes to the bright and colourful 70’s in the sun and sand of the Mediterranean (actually filmed in Corsica, I believe). There is a faint level of grain that looks natural for the image and seems to be intentional. Considering this grainy look has an inherent softness, the image looks relatively sharp and clear, although it can look a little flat and hazy in interior scenes. Purplish/yellow cross-colouration can be detected in backgrounds, but there are no real marks on the print and the image, presented on a dual-layer disc, is stable throughout.
The DTS track presented here is of a rather higher spec than this straightforward gritty film needs. The plain soundtrack comes across equally well in any of the overabundant three soundtracks included here.
Optional English subtitles are included in white font, are translated well and read clearly.
The only film-related extra feature is the Trailer (1:49), which looks a little bright, particularly the dream sequence elements, lacking the toning down that is done on the actual feature. Otherwise, the only other extra is a trailer reel for other titles in Tartan’s Ciné Lumière collection - Tiresia, Who Killed Bambi?, TwentyNine Palms and Novo.
There are a few good elements in Errance, notably the performance of Laetitia Casta and a strong consistent miserabilist tone handled with raw brutality. However the film sets this tone in the first 5 minutes and doesn’t really go anywhere from there, slipping into repetition and mundanity and sinking under the overly mannered performance of Benoît Magimel, before the director rather unconvincingly finally puts us all out of our misery. Tartan present the film well on DVD, without much in the way of extra features, but with a good quality transfer.