French actor turned director Xavier Legrand’s beautifully carried out first characteristic, Custody, was the form of debut that budding filmmakers can solely dream about. After premiering in Venice in 2017, the place it received the Silver Lion, it went on to scoop up a slew of different prizes that culminated with 4 César Awards in France, together with greatest image.
In such situations, there’s all the time a danger of a sophomore hunch, although that’s not likely the time period to use to Legrand’s second film, The Successor (Le Successeur), a bleak and tormented psychological thriller that made its world premiere in competitors at San Sebastian. Let’s name it a case of swinging for the fences and hitting a foul ball that lands someplace far off within the higher tiers, a lot does this formidable and well-made however extraordinarily flawed movie miss its mark.
The Backside Line
Too loopy to be true.
Tailored by Legrand and Dominick Parenteau-Lebeuf from Alexandre Postel’s 2015 novel, L’Ascendant (a title that may imply each ascending and forebearer), the story takes so many sudden and generally inconceivable turns that you must have an awfully excessive credulity degree to simply accept what occurs. These afraid of spoilers ought to cease studying now, as a result of it’s unattainable to debate The Successor with out revealing a couple of of its main twists (of which there are no less than 4 or 5).
The movie kicks off with a glitzy Paris style present for the Maison Orsini, a high-profile luxurious model whose newest creative director, Ellias (Marc-André Grondin), is making his massive bow. The present is successful, though Ellias — an excellent management freak who, each in gown and angle, appears to be modeled on Balenciaga’s present creative director, Demna Gvasalia — suffers from common panic assaults, which could possibly be attributed to the truth that he’s been lengthy estranged from his father, Jean-Jacques, who lives again of their native Montreal.
Whereas posing a couple of days later for his first main photograph shoot, Ellias learns that his dad has died of a coronary heart assault, prompting him to take every week off so he can return to Canada and cope with all the executive stuff, reminiscent of arranging the funeral and promoting the home. We by no means be taught why, precisely, Ellias hasn’t spoken to Jean-Jacques in many years, and we anticipate to uncover some form of childhood trauma in the course of the journey. Certainly, in its opening scenes, the movie performs like an intimate story of a son returning dwelling to face the demons of his previous, discovering extra about himself, and his father, within the course of.
That’s form of what occurs in The Successor, however under no circumstances in the way in which you may assume. Whereas wanting round his dad’s modest bungalow within the snow-covered Montreal suburbs, Ellias comes throughout one thing odd: a locked door to the basement. He plans to offer the home to a charity, and subsequently wants to offer a full stock of what’s in it, which suggests he has to get right down to that basement. In the meantime, his father’s greatest and solely good friend, Dominique (Yves Jacques), exhibits up on the doorstep, kindly introducing himself and hoping that he and Ellias can manage Jean-Jacques’ funeral collectively. Maybe his dad wasn’t such a nasty man in any case?
Wishful considering. Quickly sufficient, Ellias will get his hand on the important thing, and what began off as a household drama about mourning rapidly veers into horror movie territory when he heads down the basement stairs and discovers one other locked door, behind which lies a secret tunnel resulting in a secret room, the place a younger lady (Laëtitia Isambert) has been sequestered — clearly for a really very long time.
Ellias freaks out, which is regular. However what he does subsequent defies motive, no less than for many of us. Quite than calling the cops and releasing his dad’s prisoner, he decides to cowl up the incident, assumedly to forestall his style profession from being tarnished. This is senseless in any respect: Ellias loathed his father. He seethes each time the outdated man is talked about, and he’s so estranged from him that no person would ever join Ellias to such a heinous crime. And but he decides to maintain the entire thing underneath wraps.
From then on, The Successor doesn’t merely soar the shark — it jumps again within the water and rides the shark round a number of occasions earlier than drowning. Extra loopy twists occur, a few of them involving the candy and sympathetic Dominique, all of them prompted by Ellias’ illogical habits and rising desperation, which reaches melodramatic ranges within the last act. By that time, many a viewer may have deserted the well-known designer to the destiny he appears miserably destined for.
It’s pretty clear what Legrand is making an attempt to say right here: that the sins of the daddy, nonetheless monstrous, will inevitably be repeated by their offspring regardless of all the space that’s been put between them. (The theme of abuse was on the coronary heart of Custody, which oscillated between drama and horror film tropes as effectively.) The filmmaker hints at this legacy, reminiscent of in how Ellias’ studied Parisian accent slips again into Quebecois as he spends extra time again dwelling. Grondin (C.R.A.Z.Y.) is nice in these scenes, portraying a person bearing all the burden of his household on his shoulders, and eventually not with the ability to shoulder it.
The opposite performances are robust as effectively, and Legrand as soon as once more proves himself to be a strong director of actors and a sturdy technician, working with cinematographer Nathalie Durand to create a practical atmosphere that they handle to maintain till the bitter finish. How issues occur in The Successor is far much less of an issue than what occurs, and in addition why they occur. The movie makes an attempt to deal with a few of these questions, delving into the horrible historical past of depravity that poor Ellias has inherited and should withstand. However the sheer unlikelihood of the story will depart many people asking one last query: WTF?