Hell (L'Enfer)

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 09/09/05 03:36:43

"If you can't stand the heat ... stay out of the bedroom."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: I must admit that I took in the French flick "L'Enfer" for one specific reason, and that reason goes by the name of Emmanuelle Beart. Very few actresses working today are able to combine serious talent with beauty so intense it almost hurts your eyeballs, but there you have it; like most red-blooded movie geeks, I have a serious crush on Mademoiselle Beart. And the lady does some fantastic work in "L'Enfer," a twisted and sobering look at the ways in which one violent act can lead to a multi-generational chain reaction of misery, loneliness, and despair. (Suffice to say this ain't exactly a Disney flick.)

Sophomore effort from No Man's Land director Danis Tanovic, L'Enfer ("Hell" or "Inferno") is a beautiful-looking surface with a bunch of desperate sharks looming just below. It's the story of three estranged sisters, their disparate (yet equally unsuccessful) romantic lives, and the childhood secret that they share -- only they don't really know the whole story.

Sophie (Beart) has more than a sneaking suspicion that her husband is cheating; Anne (Marie Gillain) is having an affair with a married college professor; and Celine (Karin Viard) is seemingly unable to hold down a viable romantic relationship of any kind. The sisters' stories are presented in a fairly episodic fashion, at least until they finally get together in Act III to discuss their various revelations and reactions.

What I got from L'Enfer is that the diseases of infidelity, distrust, and deviousness infect not only the two parties involved, but are also more than capable of damaging those involved only on the periphery; namely: the children. Does it come as a surprise that the sisters' deep, dark secret has insinuted its way into their own grown-up sex lives? Not to Tanovic it doesn't, and he creates a multi-layered tale that's as compelling on a surface level as it is laden with food-for-thought underneath.

Based on a screenplay by the late, great Krzysztof Kieslowski, "L'Enfer" is nobody's idea of a light-hearted romp, but there's a lot of interesting ideas and fascinating foibles to be found in these characters. It's a slow-paced and intermittently languid little tale, but I bet once the movie draws to a close, you'll be turning to your viewing partners, more than prepared to discuss, debate, and argue over what you just witnessed.

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