Écoute Le Temps Review

The Film

Once in a while, an unheralded movie sneaks up on you that is as good as anything you have seen in ages. Sometimes it's a surprise because the film makers have never made anything of quality before, sometimes it's a return to form, but more often than not the most surprising films come from debutants who haven't learnt the bad habits of their peers yet. These are the kinds of movies that don't work from a template of what they are supposed to be and don't always follow the rules that experienced filmmakers get worn down by. This year Alanté Kavaité's Ecoute Le Temps is just such a film, a daring piece which is obsessed with sound and memory. It reminds the audience how used we have all got to the audio track of a film being merely a channel for dialogue and music that the visual needs because this film tries so hard to use the sonic in more intriguing ways.

Charlotte works as a sound recordist on nature documentaries. She is twentysomething and keeps her trips to see her kooky mum to a bare minimum due to mum's flaky temperament and her presumed clairvoyance. Whilst coming to see her mother, their car skids and hits a deer and her mother panics, crashing the car in her need to drive away. Some time later, Charlotte learns that her mother is dead and that she has been murdered. Returning to the decaying family cottage and the life she wanted to leave behind, Charlotte becomes aware that the house hides the memories of her mother's life and using her equipment tries to find the exact place in the house where the echo of the murder can be revealed. Many secrets about the village comes to light and the daughter starts to experience the strange life her mother led.

It could be classified rather clumsily as a thriller and Ecoute Le Temps does resolve itself in the style of a whodunnit. The fact is though that this is a film in which the story is a mere vehicle for the audience's experience of watching, and, more importantly, listening. Throughout, sound mics and booms creep into the frame as if the film maker or the projectionist has made a mistake, and the central character follows her intuition by bearing witness to the echoes of the past recreated mystically on her sound equipment from the strange properties of the family home. The more usual cinematic device of visual frames within frames is changed to become auditory with the viewer listening to Charlotte listening to the past, a technique which is emphasised by experimentation with angles of sound and the properties of the film's audio mix throughout. Some have thought the playing with the soundtrack and the reminders of the artificial sound recording of the film were a debut director's mistakes but actually these are deliberate and daring intentions of a film about what we can hear.

Kavaité's debut was written for Emilie Dequenne and she is excellent as the obsessional and driven young woman who discovers not only the truth of her mother's demise but also of their relationship as mother and daughter. The rest of the cast are effective with most of the men cast as potential killers in order to throw some red herrings in the mix. The visuals are deliberately muted and prosaic at times with the more striking moments given to the exposition of the sounds that Charlotte discovers and the web this casts around her. The whole thing is well edited with fine tempo and a strong sense of natural beauty.

A brilliant debut and one of my films of the year - it has been under the radar for publicity which is a real shame as many of the rubbish generic thrillers of this year have wasted people's time whilst this enhances it. An unknown pleasure from a gifted talent

The Disc

This shortish movie is presented on a single layer disc in an anamorphic transfer which preserves the muted naturalistic look. The image is sharp and colours are reliable with fleshtones appropriate and no signs of bleeding or an excess of warmth. The transfer lacks some fine detail but the contrast is well graded with the darker interior scenes retaining excellent shade, and the presentation is strong and reliable as an overall impression. The film's soundtrack is offered in 5.1 and stereo options in the original French language and the surround track is invaluable for allowing yourself to get enveloped in the clever sound design which is the key to appreciating the picture. The subwoofer track on the surround option gives a great sense of atmosphere to Charlotte's cottage and really goes to town as the house finally gives up the ghost. The audio on both options is clear and well mixed so that the occasional tricks with recording technique and tone can be picked up as part of the ongoing effort to place the accent on the noises and sounds of these memories. This isn't an action packed film and the surround is quietly effective in building up the setting rather than blowing you away. The optional English soundtracks are spotless in terms of grammar and spelling.

There are two main extras - a Q+A session with director and star and the theatrical trailer. The Q+A begins with the director introducing the film and then rejoins Dequenne and Kavaité for a discussion with the English audience afterwards. Kavaite reveals she wrote the film with her lead in mind, and explains her inspiration for her sonic mystical detective - a sense of bereavement for the voices of long dead friends. Its a shortish piece but accesible and intelligent enough to be worthy of inclusion on this disk, as well as a piece which left me nostalgic for when cinema used to be discussed properly on TV and not by a C-list celeb parroting googled quotes.

Summary

An impressive film that will please fans of gallic thrillers as well as announce the talent of the first time director Kavaité. The Dogwoof disc is very serviceable and worth seeking out.