SFiFF ix: Illumination

ILLUMINATION (2004)
France, 130 minutes
Written and Directed by Pascale Breton

Cast: Clet Beyer, Melanie Le Rey, Catherine Hosmalin, Herve Furic, Albertine Dagand

This was the U.S. Premier

illumination.jpg

The film opens on a Trawler in the North Atlantic. Ildut, maybe 19, is gutting fish that come by on a conveyor belt. When he finds a live and squirming one, he drops it in a basket by his feet to return it to the sea. “We”re fishing too much, too many fish,” he says to the guy next to him.

Ashore in Scotland, the the trawler’s home base, wandering in the deserted highlands, he talks to himself and hears the voice of his sister, who died at age nine months.

At his grandmother’s house in Brittany, he is repairing her water heater. He carefully stands his tools up on a shelf, but he can”t concentrate on the job at hand. Days later, his tools are still standing there when he sees the nurse, Christina, who comes to dress his grandmother’s foot; he meets her eyes through a French door, and is immediately stricken with love, but jumps back into the room, out of sight. He follows her to her ferry, careful not to be seen. The next week, he meets her by accident and repairs her car battery, eager to try anything to gain her attention. She kisses him on the cheek in thanks. With this he regains reality and completes the heater repair in no time.

But later on a boat with his father, they pass the submarine base at Brest and he laments the bombing of Brest, completely destroying the town, but not the German U-Boat pens. He can”t stand this thought, this waste, and goes back into a psychotic depression. There is a seafarer’s expression that you cannot realize your full potential in life until you have “touched bottom.” Ildut attempts suicide by drowning, but his father saves him, and he becomes dedicated to proving himself worthy, to Cristina and to himself, leading to humor and romantic pathos.

While the script probes the topography of Ildut’s mind, stunning cinematography captures the austere beauty of the landscapes and seascapes of Brittany.

mrating * * * * ~

The writer/director Pascale Breton was available for Q&A after the screening. [from “Scoop du Jour,” daily highlights of the Festival]:

Beautiful Brittany
The audience member who pointed to “a very novelistic feeling” of the French film Illumination, which tells a story of a young fisherman living on the coast of Brittany, got it right. The director Pascale Breton, who also wrote her own screenplay for this picture, compares it with the novels of Robert Louis Stevenson, where the border between the earth and the sea also means a line between good and evil. Another borderline in the film is the one between insanity and normalcy. The main character Ildut is a psychotic, but he is on his way to recovery. “Lots of my friends had psychotic episodes in their 20s,” Breton said, “and now they are all fully recovered and integrated into society.” She feels that there is a certain taboo around this, and it made her even more willing to show psychosis in the film. But Illumination has a much deeper cosmic spirit in it, and a variety of breathtaking landscapes of the director’s native Brittany.
Come Back, Mr. Beyer
To find Clet Beyer, who plays the central character in Illumination, Pascale Breton went through a long casting process. “In America you have plenty of great young actors, but in France it’s different”, she said. Bayer’s only previous cinematic experience was doing Breton language voiceovers for the cartoons at the local TV. He was also a drummer in a band, which eventually recorded most part of the film’s music. After the filming Clet Beyer got back to music, so that’s the only movie in his resume right now. Yet he gives such a great performance, so natural and so intense, that we can”t help but hope to see him back on the screen.

The San Francisco International Film Festival is running now through May 4. I”m volunteering at the festival and plan to attend as many of the films as I can work in to my schedule. Bear in mind that, for the most part, these are independent films and many have not been picked up for distribution, so they may not be playing at a “theater near you” anytime soon. On the other hand, some of the foreign films may have already been released in Europe.


As a public service, I will post brief reviews. My ratings are based on 5 stars ***** with a tilde ~ being half-a-star.

Happy viewing, or in any case, keep your eyes on rectorsite.com.

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