Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sundance: "7 Days"

Daniel Grou’s 7 Days is an effective but difficult motion picture, the kind of film you admire while wondering who on earth it’s for. In its broad strokes, it sounds like a fairly typical revenge thriller, but there’s a twist: it takes the implications and consequences of its story seriously, and dares us to look them in the eye. Most viewers may have difficulty doing that. I’m not entirely sure I was up to the task.

It is the story of three men: Hervé Mercure (Rémy Girard), a police detective who has lost his wife; Bruno Hamel (Claude Legault), a surgeon who has just lost his young daughter; and Anthony Lemaire (Martin Dubrueil), the rapist and murderer who killed her. From the beginning, the tone is sad, mournful, elegiac—it’s all so muted, but still hard to watch. Mercure watches the security tape of his wife’s murder, over and over. Hamel and his wife (Fanny Mallette) send their girl off to school for the last time, and the shot of her, through the window, walking away, is held for such an agonizingly long time, we know they’re never going to see her again. Grou casually observes the couple as they realize she never made it to school, and the worst-case scenarios sink in. The camera moves in uncomfortably close as the good doctor is brought to his daughter’s body, and realizes the agony she died in.

Grou (working from a screenplay by Patrick Senécal, adapted from his novel) builds his story quietly and methodically, without grandstanding or ovexplaining; we’re discovering what’s happening while Dr. Hamel is, and then, in a strange point-of-view shift that somehow works, we discover his plan as the killer Lemaire does. It’s all so low-key and artful that when the violence comes, it catches us unawares.

But it does come. The doctor manages to steal the prison transport van that is moving Lemaire, and drives it to a remote house, where he chains Lemaire up and explains to him that he will spend the next seven days (ending on what would have been his daughter’s eighth birthday) torturing the now-nude killer. “It’s for Jasmine,” he explains. “I owe it to her.” There is, to put it mildly, some powerful imagery in these scenes, starting with the graphic scene of Hamel letting Lemaire have it with a piece of heavy chain. That’ll be around when the woozier audience members check out.

Some of this material is downright stomach-churning, resulting in an awkward mixture that might prevent the film from a crossover to U.S. audiences (it comes from Canada and is shot in French). Arthouse patrons will be turned off by the graphic brutality, gore, and, ahem, fluids (trust me, it gets much more intense than I’ve let on), while those unbothered (like the audience for so-called “torture porn” films) won’t make it past the deliberately-paced first act.

More troublesome is the disturbing, unexpected turn that the narrative takes around the 80-minute mark. I won’t give it away, except to say that while it makes logical sense (within the admittedly twisted logic of the main character), it pretty much drins off any remaining sympathy that we had for him—and respect that we might have maintained for his intelligence.

It is something of a surprise, then, when Grou manages to pull out such a delicate conclusion. With the tense closing scenes and perfectly chosen closing lines, he manages to pull us back from the brink—but just barely. 7 Days is a tough film to recommend; there is so much of it that’s problematic, but it’s so skillfully done, I can’t say that it’s not worth seeing. If you’ve got the stomach for it.

"7 Days" is playing this week at the Sundance Film Festival. It is also available now for Video-on-Demand viewing from several cable providers.

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