Friday, August 25, 2017

Gilles Deroo/Marianne Pistone's MOUTON serves up a small seaside community via an unusual cinéma vérité narrative

Odd does not begin to describe the 2013 French movie first seen in the USA via the New Directors/New Films series in 2014 but only just now appearing on DVD so that movie buffs across the USA can finally view it. MOUTON (whever I see that word, which is French for sheep, I automatically hear Julia Childs saying it aloud in my mind), written and directed by the filmmaking team of Gilles Deroo and Marianne Pistone, tells the tale of a quiet, strange but sweet 17-year-old young man, who has been given that titular nickname.

Or at least it does this for more than half of the film's 100-minute running time. At that point there occurs a momentous and very nearly unfathomable event, after which the film shifts to the lives of a few of the townspeople who know and/or work with Mouton. We don't see Mouton again, except in a photograph and finally via a letter written to him, which we hear in narration at the finale.

Yes, this is frustrating, to say the least. But oddly enough, it ends up working better than you might imagine. Still, I can't help wondering what the intention of the filmmakers (shown above, with Ms Pistone on the right) actually were.

Surely the pair wanted to give us a full-bodied character in Mouton. And they do, sort of. Though we only get glimpses of the other characters, even after the movie shifts over to them, I am guessing the duo is more interested in capturing the "community" here, a little seaside fishing town called Courseulles-sur-mer.

The filmmakers' style, I think, is something akin to cinéma vérité, which began as a kind of documentary form but soon made its way into narrative, as well. (These two types of cinema were never nearly as "distinct" as we might like to think. Witness the ever-growing list of "hybrid" documentaries, as well as the work of Flaherty, Rogosin and many others.)

With Mouton, Deroo and Pistone don't claim to be making a documentary; they simply use that style to rather complete and full effect. From the opening scene, in which Mouton (played very well by Michael Mormentyn, shown above) is at last given a kind of freedom from his alcoholic, grasping mother to his time working in a restaurant, making friends with the owner and staff and falling into a relationship with a newly hired waitress (below), it all seems as real as life, if occasionally as slow-moving, too.

When the movie changes from its lead character to its supporting ones, this sense of reality never wavers, though one does wonder if the filmmakers mightn't have simply incorporated all this into a more singular narrative that included all the events and also seemed more of a fuller, complete piece. Perhaps they wanted that sense of "loss" we feel once Mouton has left the narrative.

Also, their use of inter-titles to explain what is happening in those final scenes seems a bit of a cheat. (Without the use of one of these -- "Mimi abandons a dog" -- I might not have understood exactly what was going on.) Yet these final scenes do offer some strange and wonderful moments: the twin brothers and the prostitute proves a humdinger combining sexual realism, kindness and need, while the scene that follows, featuring love and obeisance to a very large fish, together with the religious service practiced at the seaside wharf makes it absolutely clear how much this community owes its employment and its very life to the vast ocean and its many species (they could have called the movie Poisson, just as easily as Mouton).

By the end of this singular film, I felt I had indeed experienced the life of the community, it's small pleasures and joys, as well as its losses, chief among these, our sweet-natured (and maybe, yes, a bit slow) titular boy. From IndiePix Films, Mouton makes its DVD debut this coming Tuesday, August 29, for purchase and/or streaming rental via IndiePix Unlimited, the company's (relatively) new streaming service.

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