Time: 108 Minutes
Marie-Josée Croze as Bibiane Champagne
Bibiane (Marie-Josée Croze), a wealthy part-time model, questions her seemingly perfect life after she has a traumatic abortion. She succumbs to substance abuse and, while driving drunk one night, strikes a pedestrian and drives off. The next morning, she learns of a man who died after a hit-and-run. Wracked with guilt, she attends the man’s funeral. There, she meets his son, Evian (Jean-Nicolas Verreault), and the pair begin a romance. But Bibiane is afraid to tell Evian her dark secret.
As I was working through Denis Villeneuve’s filmography, the ones I knew the least about was his first two movies, August 32nd on Earth and Maelström. I knew next to nothing going into Maelström, outside of that it was some kind of drama. I don’t love it like Villeneuve’s films Polytechnique and onwards and it’s got some issues for sure, but I think it’s got enough good elements to it that make it worth a watch.
There is a lot going for Maelström, with it being more of a character study of the lead character Bibiane (Marie-Josée Croze), a troubled woman who is dealing with a lot of issues in her life. Much of the movie was tackling the themes of guilt, grief and regret and most of it worked really well. While there are definitely some interesting elements to it, much of the intrigue was sort of deflated by some of its shortcomings.
Whereas his previous film August 32nd on Earth feels like a standard movie for a directorial debut, Maelstrom is Denis Villeneuve getting experimental, some of it really works, other parts not so much. The movie is very slow moving, and while the lead character works well (and the performance carries everything really well), it doesn’t necessarily keep your attention all the way through. An aspect that distracted from the movie was (and it’s not really a spoiler) narration by a talking fish. It’s definitely the most disturbing part of the movie, given that it’s telling a story while being chopped up by a butcher. I know that fishes do play a symbolic part in the movie but the whole narration part doesn’t really add much to anything to the movie outside of that, and didn’t really fit in with the rest of the film. It really just takes you out of the movie more than anything, and doesn’t belong in the movie at all. The ending isn’t quite satisfying either, I guess it sort of concludes the story in a fitting way but by the end I sort of felt indifferent to it.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the acting, with the cast being limited. Marie-Josée Croze however is the lead and with the movie being a character study, much of it was riding on her, and thankfully she delivered very well and performing as this complicated character. The supporting actors of the cast like Jean-Nicolas Verreault and Stephanie Morgenstern played their parts well enough.
Denis Villeneuve’s direction is one of the highlights of Maelström. It’s not quite as polished as Villeneuve’s later work with Polytechnique and onwards and he’s still crafting his own distinct style but it’s nonetheless one of the best parts of the movie. It’s very much an independent movie but the technical aspects like the cinematography and everything just fitted the movie quite well, and while it’s still early stages for Villeneuve, you can still detect aspects of his style here that eventually would make its way into his future movies.
Maelström despite being a little rough and having it’s issues for sure is still a solid and somewhat intriguing movie. If you are a fan of Villeneuve, I definitely recommend you checking this out (as well as the rest of his filmography). It has some interesting aspects to it that make it worth a watch even though not all of it works.