Directed by: Lucile Hadzihalilovic.
Written by: Lucile Hadzihalilovic & Alante Kavaite & Geoff Cox.
Starring: Max Brebant (Nicolas), Roxane Duran (Stella), Julie-Marie Parmentier (La mère), Mathieu Goldfeld (Victor), Nissim Renard (Franck), Pablo-Noé Etienne (Le 4e garcon), Nathalie Legosles (Le doctor)
I cannot deny the visual greatness of Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution – which looks as great as pretty much any film made this year. There are moments here as stunning as anything you will see. AT its heart, Evolution is a horror film, set in a dystopian future (present?), about a society without men – although there are quite a few boys around. It centers on one of those boys, Nicolas (Max Brebant), and his odd journey, and relationships. Yet, it is a film that seems to want to be deeper than ultimately I think it is – a film that confuses long stretches of little to no dialogue, with subtlety and insight. For a film with a horror movie heart, the film never really gets under your skin, it’s a film to admire, while admitting that it never really gets under your skin.
The film takes place on an island populated only by sickly women, and seemingly healthy boys. Hadzihalilovic slowly introduces us to this world – one in which Nicolas doesn’t seem like he knows any more than we do. His relationship with his mother is the most important in his world – even though he doesn’t completely trust her, he loves her and submits to her will (he doesn’t believe, for example, that he – or any or the other boys are sick, no matter what they are told). Eventually he, like all boys, is brought to a hospital and abandoned – and it’s here where he develops another relationship – this time with a nurse named Stella, who becomes a surrogate mother to him, but in a more tender way than his own mother ever did.
The direction by Lucile Hadzihalilovic is brilliant – this is one of the year’s most visually stunning films, from its opening scenes under water, through the confines of the hospital, etc. there is not a frame of the film that doesn’t look stunning. Hadzihalilovic also uses visually cues to let the audience know more about the world she is creating – and to convey that Nicolas isn’t as naïve about his world as he seems, and that Stella isn’t as cold as she seems.
Yet, to me, the film never really lives up to its visuals. The film doesn’t get under your skin, doesn’t truly unsettle you. It’s a film that you have pay close attention to, or else you will become lost – and yet, even if you do, I’m not sure you’re meant to fully understand everything.
There is no doubt that I will see anything that Hadzihalilovic decides to direct next (not to mention, that I should go back and see her debut film Innocence from 2004). If, in her next film, she figures out how to marry a narrative and characters as stunning as her visuals to those visuals, she’ll create a masterpiece. Evolution isn’t that film – it’s more of an exercise in style than anything else, and as great as that style is, it eventually gets dull – but it shows he has that in her.