Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cast: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
France/Belgium/Spain 2015, 81 min.
It is nearly eleven years since Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s memorable debut feature Innocence, which dealt with a teenage girl in a boarding school. EVOLUTION centres this time on a group of boys on the crest of adolescence. Living a frigid existence with their insipid-looking mothers by an eerie seashore, there are no adult males to be seen. Hadzihalilovic presents a joyless antiseptic world where even the meals of strained seaweed broth appear medicinal rather than satisfying. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosses’s spare and pristine interior visuals give the impression of a wide-scale marine laboratory where a sci-fi experiment is underway and the boys are the victims.
Young Nicolas (Brebant) and his mother (Parmentier) live in a dreary community: their spartan lifestyle is marked by robotic rituals: dinner is always followed by the intake of an inky medicine, which appears to be therapeutic. Somehow Nicolas suspects that something is going on beyond the surface of enforced rigour: he follows his mother to the beach at night, where he observes her writhe in ecstacy with other women. Before he can unravel the mysterious plan, he is sent to a dilapidated early 20th century hospital, where some of his friends are also patients. Weird experiments are carried out and one boy disappears completely. Nicolas is befriended by one of the nurses, Stella (Duran), who supplies him with material for his drawings. When the dreadful secret emerges, Stella tries to help Nicolas to escape.
The boys in EVOLUTION have no rights over their bodies, but what emerges is that they are the unwitting victims of some kind of freaky, gender-reversal surgery. The dreamlike atmosphere evokes a past we can not see, but the boys’ dreams suggest that they have been taken away from their real families to take part in a medical experiment destined to help mankind’s survival. But dreams and reality are indistinguishable: the underwater scenes suggest that more sinister plans are underway: perhaps mankind has to become amphibious to survive. The ghastly hospitals are horror institutions located underground and under the control of the sullen – all female – doctors and nurses. Syringes and scalpels take on a sadistic undertone creating a frightening parallel with medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps.
EVOLUTION haunts and beguiles for just over an hour. Hadzihalilovic and her co-scripter Alante Kavaite (Summer of Sangaile) cleverly keep the tension taught requiring the audience to invest a great deal in the narrative before any salient clues emerge – but even then much remains unexplained and enigmatic; not that EVOLUTION wants to be understood. Part of its allure is this inaccessibility, unsettlingly evoking a world far apart from any genre, it is esoteric and anguished in its unique otherworldliness. Too many films feature repetitive images and schematic self-indulgent narratives: how refreshing to find an true original which opens a totally new world in just 81 minutes.
NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | EVOLUTION |