Deep In The Woods (Au Fond Des Bois) Review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
A dark and ambiguous tale of repression and obsession in 19th-century France...
"Whatever you make of the film, it's difficult not to be drawn and mystified by Josephine and Timothee's fascinating push/pull relationship..."
French Director, Benoit Jacquot's rural psycho-costume-drama, Deep In The Woods, is certainly deep somewhere, but it's exact location remains unclear. Sure, it's South-of-France setting and 19th-century timescale ground the film, but its muddled allusion to a variety of conflicting schools of thought suggest that the loose plot premise exists somewhere in the recesses of the mind.
Taking inspiration from a 19th century news story, Deep In The Woods follows the abduction and moral downfall of middle-class beauty Josephine (Isild le Besco). Spotted going to church by the abominable Timothee (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), a mystic travelling peasant, Josephine is destined to follow him in a kind of lethargy, semi-consciously bound to him.
Having obsessively watched her every move tree-hopping around the house, Timothee ingratiates himself into her family by convincingly pretending to be deaf and dumb and taking advantage of their kindness. Her doctor father is fascinated by his harmless magic tricks turning knives into rings, and his predictions of the future, patronisingly assessing his intellect: “He shows a capacity for imitation”. At night Timothee manages to gain entrance to the house to eerily place a dead moth on Josephine's head before putting her in a trance and brutally raping her the next day.
Timothee is a grotesquely filthy and confident trickster whose grubby finger nails are enough to inspire revulsion, without enduring shots of him devouring a whole skinned rabbit, or his wandering lecherous eyes. The strange barking noises he makes hint at savagery, and his bizarre deluded-sounding cryptic note-speak adds to his mysterious character: “I am the son of God. I came from above...Your blood, my blood majesty”. His Rasputin-like ability to see inside people's heads and control them like marionettes by making strange hand gestures and rubbing his fingers together like peppering food, are used to explain the mesmerising control he has over Josephine.
“Magnetising” Josephine, Timothee admits to being a sorcerer who’s never taken anyone before. Initially disgusted but fascinated by Timothee, Josephine struggles to live his way of life: “You are a freak… chimp…. Repugnant… You stink, you monster”. As the days pass, a strange savage attraction develops, leading to plenty of rough outdoor sex and Josephine eventually imitating his dog barks and instigating quivering sex bouts.
A well brought-up girl from the village of Guiols, Josephine is almost as non-conventional as Timothee and her atheist father – betrothed to a poet, she isn't taken by love poems and nightly sleep-walks to precariously stand on the window ledge. Despite her obvious sexual appetite and growing fondness for Timothee, she is constantly running away to shout for “help”, suggesting her conscious awareness of her behaviour breaking the accepted codes of “polite society”.
Psychological mystery, Deep In The Woods uses dramatic atmospheric string music, creepy tree shadows and repeat shots of the glowing whites of Timothee's eyes to create a tense mood. The final trial at the end of the film provides a deliberately ambiguous “resolution”, suggesting a variety of explanations for previous taut events, and the central stormy relationship.
Jacquot's title seemingly alludes to the imagination of a sexually repressed woman that is expressed in language akin to DH Lawrence: “When he touched me an abyss opened up within me” but may also smuttily refer to male fantasy. The Victorian preoccupation of hysterical mad women is touched upon by references to Josephine's unbalanced mother while the virginal white dress she wears points towards the idea of the fallen virgin: “I’m not Trollope. I’m in mourning for myself, for I’m no longer anything.” The story's woodland location suggests Deep In The Woods can also be viewed as an adult cautionary fairytale.
Whatever you make of the film, it's difficult not to be drawn and mystified by Josephine and Timothee's fascinating push/pull relationship and attempt to solve the mystery of who subjugated who? Was Josephine willingly compliant or the victim of a brutal crime?
Director: Benoit Jacquot
Writers: Benoît Jacquot, Julien Boiven
Running Time: 102 mins
Starring: Isild le Besco, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Jérôme Kircher, Mathieu Simonet
Showing as part of the London Film Festival at Cine Lumiere and Vue on Friday 22 October at 9pm and Sunday 24 October at 1pm.
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