Alain Getty (Laurent Lucas) is a Home Automation Designer for the Pollock Company, a job that has taken him and his wife Bénédicte (Charlotte Gainsbourg) south to Bel Air. A model couple, living in a model house in a fashionable district, things however start to go wrong for them when his boss Richard Pollock (André Dussollier) and his wife Alice (Charlotte Rampling) come over to dinner and Alice causes a scene.
Unable to sleep that night, Alain sets about fixing the blocked sink in the kitchen and extracts a small rodent out of the pipe, apparently dead. When it begins twitching, Bénédicte takes it to the vet and discovers that it is a lemming, a creature indigenous to Scandinavia and never found in France.
Alice Pollock, bitter about her own failed marriage, is cynical and suspicious about the happy little marriage of the Getty’s, and like a little rodent, she sets about burrowing her way into their lives, separately approaching Alain in the office and Bénédicte again at their home, with the intention of sowing discord.
Thereafter, Lemming takes on an increasingly strange and sinister tone. Rather like Moll’s previous film Harry He’s Here To Help (2000), co-scripted as here with Gilles Marchand, the film starts off with rather ordinary everyday situations with straightforward exchanges of dialogue – in the home, in the workplace, at dinner parties and at business presentations. The meticulously detail and deliberate pacing of these commonplace situations is however purposeful and designed to make what follows all the more unsettling. Moll and Merchand’s script is superbly pitched and paced as far as the early realist part of the film goes, gradually insinuating a sense of deep unease without the assistance of any superfluous camera tricks or heightened music. All they have to do is merely drop in a sink that won’t drain, an incongruous lemming and a disastrous dinner party and let this combination of mishaps seep into the otherwise perfection of the lives of the Getty’s, imbuing it all with a sinister edge.
Unfortunately, as with Harry He’s Here To Help and rather like Cédric Kahn in Red Lights, Moll is far more adept in his mastery of the social situation with underlying suspicion and resentment than he is when it comes to pushing the situation beyond strictly realist terms into supernatural or metaphorical symbolism. The lemming discovered in the Getty’s kitchen clearly plays a large part in this and has significance beyond the obvious suicidal impulse the creatures are mistakenly reputed to have. It is also used as a representation of how Alice tunnels her insidious way into their perfect lives, and later as the overflowing of emotions of guilt and jealousy that spill over into the relationship. In that respect, the lemming is not a bad metaphor, but it’s more how its apparitions on the screen are presented and integrated that rather let the film down in the second half.
Lacking the subtlety and delicacy of the first half of the film with its cool, measured performances from a fine cast, Moll falls back on rather standard tricks to ratchet up the tension – not with shock-value jump cuts or even in an augmentation of the film’s pace, but with loud unsettling noises that don’t form part of either the natural sound effects or the music score such as rattling pipes, ringing bells and wailing sirens. None of these effects manage to successfully lift the film out of the realist torpor it has generated in the first half of the film into the supernatural realm it expects us to accept in the second.
Lemming is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The DVD is in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2. The menus display some scenes from the film which I would consider spoilers, so I would suggest hitting the play button as soon as the options have loaded.
The film’s transfer to DVD is excellent and any issues it might have are very minor. There is a hint of edge enhancement if you look hard enough, and only the merest hint of flickering compression artefacts very rarely visible. Bands of yellow and purple cross-colouration can be detected in the backgrounds of pale interior walls, but not to any troublesome degree. The overriding impression is of coolness and clarity in the typically blue-toned French style. The image is sharp and detailed with good skin tones.
There are a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks available. Sound plays a large part in maintaining the tone and tension of the film - from the smallest of natural sounds, creaks and breathing to the more dramatic strange noises employed – and they all come across quite clearly and effectively.
English subtitles are in a white font and are optional. The translation is excellent, the idiomatic tone capturing the casual exchanges of everyday dialogue.
Interview with Dominik Moll (25:49)
Speaking in perfect English, without even a trace of an accent, the director explains the idea for the starting point of the film, how the script was developed with Gilles Marchand and the casting. He describes the intention of the lemming and how it and other elements were used to drive the film forward, as well as how the effects were done.
Making Of Featurettes
The Making of is divided into six short sections, totalling about 30 minutes in length, which are reasonably informative of the whole process of making the film. They feature contributions from Gilles Marchand, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Laurent Lucas and the special effects team, covering the films themes, how certain scenes were shot and how the special effects were employed.
A trailer is included for Lemming (1:52), which inevitably in a thriller like this contains spoilers by trying too hard to intrigue you, as well as the trailer for Harry He’s Here To Help (1:48) which on the other hand downplays just how far it goes.
Filmographies are included for Laurent Lucas, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dominik Moll, André Dussollier and Charlotte Rampling.
Beneath the dark drama and horror, Lemming is a well-crafted little thriller that gets beneath the surface of the little flaws and cracks of guilt and jealousy that can undermine a relationship. The film doesn’t signal its intentions too far ahead and keeps the viewer hooked with an impeccable mise en scène that takes its time to reveal where it is going. Unfortunately, the direction the film takes doesn’t fully convince and certainly doesn’t justify its running time of over two hours, ending up over-explaining and over-emphasising what was deliciously strange and unsettling in its intriguing premise. Artificial Eye’s DVD release is quite impressive, giving the film an excellent transfer and a number of worthwhile extra features.