Saturday, June 10, 2017

Frédéric Mermoud's MOKA: A revenge -- not thriller -- drama starring Devos and Baye

TrustMovies thought that the name Frédéric Mermoud rang a bell. Sure enough, when he searched for it on his blog, up came a wonderful-but-little-seen French/Swiss film titled Complices (Accomplices) from 2009 (you can read my earlier review here). Complices focused -- unusually, for a police procedural -- more on the victim that on the crime itself, and in the process brought great humanity to the young man who had been murdered and eventually to those around him. M. Mermoud's new film, MOKA, is about the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident and focuses its energy on the bereft mother of the victim (also a young man).

The star of both films is that accomplished French actress Emmanuelle Devos (currently the subject of a mini-retrospective at NYC's FIAF), and she is joined by another French wonder-woman Nathalie Baye.

Granted this is only Mermoud's second full-length narrative work (the filmmaker is shown at right), but it seems to me that he is staking out a special claim in the crime film genre: that of exploring the victims and (to use the title of a deservedly popular HBO series) "leftovers" of a crime, which, in his capable hands, become as compelling a story (and a good deal deeper) that that of movies that concentrate mostly on solving the crime.

Though Moka has been described as a slow burning and/or riveting psychological thriller, it is much more a drama than a thriller. There may be a few thrills here, but they take a decidedly back seat to the psychology of the main character  -- the victim's mother, played by Ms Devos (above). And yet, thanks to Devos' keen understanding of how to unveil her character's extreme vulnerability and instability, the movie keeps us on quiet tenterhooks as it slowly unfurls.

Because the local police seem to be dragging their feet on this case, the victim's mom and dad have hired a private detective to investigate. When he turns up a mocha-colored car as the suspected vehicle, mom takes over the investigation herself, thinning down the suspects to one particular car and its owner, the character played by Ms Baye, shown above, who also owns a beauty salon.

The little dance in which these two women engage, and the results of it, are the meat of the movie, and M. Mermoud has organized things quite well, so that we view Devos' character in a varied and most interesting range of situations -- with the young man she meets on the ferry to the city where the suspected perpetrator lives; with her husband (the pair have become estranged, as often happens upon the death of a child); and even with the family of the Baye character.

The eventual solution does bring some closure -- and the idea of how refusing to take responsibility for one's actions results in seemingly endless tragedy -- but Mermoud saves his best for the last. Sure, the solving of the mystery is satisfying, of course, but the filmmaker then offers up a lovely and moving finale that shows us something that should -- and could -- have taken place much earlier, if only responsibility had been accepted in a timely fashion. Suddenly, finally, loss can be accepted and grief experienced.

Moka is a keeper and Mermoud a filmmaker to be greatly encouraged. I hope we shall not have to wait another eight years for his next one. (He did direct, meantime, a few episodes of that fine French TV series Les Revenants [The Returned] during its first season.)

From Film Movement and running a just-right 89 minutes, the movie has its U.S. theatrical premiere this coming Wednesday, June 14, at New York City's Film Forum. On June 23, it will hit Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt), Chicago (at the Gene Siskel Film Center), Albuquerque (at the Guild Cinema) and here in South Florida at the Tower Theater in Miami. To view all currently scheduled playdates across the country, click here and scroll down.

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