ONLY THE ANIMALS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Dominik Moll

Stars: Denis Menochet, Damien Bonnard, Laure Calamy, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Valerie Bruni Tedeschi, Guy Rogert ‘Bibisse’ N’Drin, Bastien Bouillon.

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Set largely in a snowbound rural community in the south of France, Only The Animals is a cautionary tale and character study wrapped in the trappings of a generic murder mystery. The film explores themes of guilt, lies, deception, obsession, sex, dysfunctional relationships.

A woman named Evelyne (Valerie Bruni Tedeschi) has gone missing, and a police search has failed to find the body. Although we the audience are made aware of her fate early on, this only adds to the suspense of the film.

We meet five disparate characters who are all dissatisfied with their lives, but they are also somehow involved in what happened to the missing woman, whether by accident or intent.

Alice (Laure Calamy) is a social worker trapped in a loveless marriage to Michel (Denis Menochet, from Inglorious Basterds, etc), a surly, brooding farmer who is looking for love online. Alice spots an abandoned car on the side of the road after a snow-storm and alerts the authorities. Alice is having an affair with the troubled and lonely Joseph (Damien Bonnard), who, in his own words, only talks to his animals. Marion (Nadia Tereskiewic) is a waitress who had a brief affair with Evelyne. And in Abidjan, an impoverished city in the Ivory Coast of Africa, one of the poorest places on Earth, we meet Armand (Guy Roger ‘Bibisse’ N’Drin), a youth who is involved in an internet scam targetting lonely and desperate middle-aged men. His on-line persona is Amandine, and he tries to bring in money with promises of romance.

Only The Animals is not your conventional mystery thriller, as writer/director Dominik Moll (the dark 2000 psychological thriller With A Friend Like Harry, etc) has crafted a story that unfolds in intriguing fashion.  Only The Animals has been adapted from the 2018 novel by Colin Niel. Moll, who has written the script with Gilles Marchand (who also collaborated with Moll on With A Friend Like Harry), teases out the connections between the missing woman and these characters.

The film unfolds in nonlinear fashion, but editor Laurent Rouan (Money, etc) has done a superb job as he deftly jumps back and forth between the various narrative strands. We get to see key events from different perspectives, but it all comes together neatly by the end. However, the final scene is the only real let down in this sinuously plotted drama. 

Menochet (from the intense 2017 drama Custody, etc) has a strong and imposing physical presence and he brings a menacing edge to his performance as Michel. Bonnard brings a quiet intensity to his role as the disturbed Joseph. Newcomer N’Drin brings an energy and enthusiasm to his performance as Armand, who is trying to eke out a meagre living in this dangerous and impoverished corner of Africa.

The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Patrick Ghiringhelli (who previously worked with Moll on the 2019 tv miniseries Eden), and his lensing of the snow-covered landscapes gives the unfolding drama something of a cold surface. He also captures a sense of the overcrowded and bustling ramshackle city of Abidjan.

★★★☆

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