Le Souffle receives a welcome UK DVD release (with a DTS soundtrack) after its run in cinemas last spring. Brief, stark, and hot, it’s a movie whose visual power is actually rather suited to the intimacy of home viewing on a small screen.
It’s set over the course of a single day, in which teenager David (Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc), staying on his uncles’ farm, undergoes various mishaps. For the first time, he is allowed to sit and eat with the adults – his uncles and a group of their farming friends and colleagues. While they prepare and tuck into a feast of lamb (graphically slaughtered in the film’s opening moments), David gets drunk, wanders around in the rain, and basks in the sun. It’s clear that the adult influences around him are having a largely negative effect, and this, combined with his daydreaming and the intense heat of the day, all leads him out of doors, away from the farm, and into increasingly dramatic developments.
This could be the basis of a typical summery rites-of-passage tale, and indeed, David’s initiation into the masculine rituals of getting drunk and bitching about womenfolk could certainly be seen to incorporate elements of a growing-up narrative. But writer-director Damian Odoul’s debut feature offers something rather more surprising, a sustained portrait of an out-of-control adolescent which manages to move from the archetypal to the specific seemingly without any effort at all.
The film does this in a couple of key ways: by giving us glimpses into David’s psyche through surreal, dream-like images of him, naked in the woods, romping with wolves or wrestling with his uncles, and by utilising an extraordinary performance from the hitherto unknown Bonnetblanc, who cuts loose from any actorly sense of self-consciousness and, with Odoul, manages to create a character out of very little story material.
On top of this, the black and white imagery allows the movie to feel both documentary-like and hyper-real at once – which is how it successfully incorporates its surrealism. If, at times, the movie comes across as straining for significance, this is outweighed by the sheer exuberance of David, who, while not especially likeable, is still someone with whom the viewer can identify: he’s honest, instinctive, tipsy, guilt-ridden, and horny as hell. And when events start to intensify, as David goes off across the fields with his friend Matthieu (Laurent Simon) and a loaded gun, we feel a sense of protectiveness for this raw, unschooled lifeforce.
Odoul has since made Errance (2003), which has yet to get a UK release, and so it’s too early to say in what direction his talent will go. Le Souffle, though, is full of potential, so much so that the whole movie feels like a succession of opening shots. I may be wrong, but it looks in many ways like the start of a long career.