Venice Review: Laure Calamy In Sebastien Marnier’s ‘The Origin Of Evil’

·3 min read

Can a rich man trust anyone? Bien sûr que non. But then again, should a rich man be trusted by anyone else? Again, non. Never mind that everyone in Sebastien Marnier’s Gallic fable The Origin of Evil claims either the best of motives or victim status; you shouldn’t believe any of them. And oui, you’re going to have to trust me on this.

Billed as a thriller, the Venice Film Festival Horizons Extra entry is more of a murderous romp that has something of the spirit of Knives Out, although it doesn’t hit its plot points with anything like that film’s whip-smartness.

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Serge (Jacques Weber) is the rich man in question, partly incapacitated by a stroke but — so he says — still in charge of his property conglomerate. When Stephane (Call My Agent’s Laure Calamy) turns up and says she is the daughter he abandoned when she was a baby, he manifests all the indulgent delight of a whiskery old patriarch. They snuggle on the couch together as she assures him she isn’t interested in his fortune. She just wants a family.

And what a family she has found! Serge lives in a vast villa by a turquoise sea, surrounded by mutinous women who all wish he would die. They have their reasons; not for nothing have women been warned to beware the patriarchy. His wife Louise (Dominique Blanc) is an online shopaholic, driven mad by having nothing to do. George (Doria Tillier), her sour-faced daughter, claims to be running Dad’s business now — a claim made more credible when we see him walking around the house wearing nothing but incontinence underwear — and certainly doesn’t want another sibling. She tells Stephane point blank to go away and never come back.

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Teenager Jeanne (Celeste Brunnquell) hates everything, photographs everything — inconveniently for those with things to hide — and cannot wait to leave. Finally, there is Agnes (Veronique Ruggia), a housekeeper straight from the school of Mrs Danvers. She adores her mistress, but not with sufficient fervor to prevent her stealing her online purchases and flogging them on eBay. Nice work if you can get it, as they say.

While each of these nasty types has at least one secret to be revealed at some stage of the game, their actual characters are disappointingly flat; this is Clue casting. The principal player is Stephane, whom we first meet visiting her friend (Suzanne Clement) in a women’s prison. Stephane herself seems to have more than a passing familiarity with this institution. And as we all know, it would be a waste of a storyline involving women in prison not to include plenty of hot lesbian sex. Miss one turn, hit the sex jackpot. Stephane, clearly, has all kinds of secrets to burn.

Calamy has a curling-lipped cuteness that this role — and indeed this film — relies on a good deal. From the moment she contacts Serge, passing herself off as the owner of the fish factory where she works, we appreciate what an agile liar she is. No matter how hostile the women in Serge’s luxurious household are, she forces a constant cheerfulness, appearing not to notice. They tell her to go and she gives them a wide-eyed smile; her habitual response is a giggly girlishness that suggests borderline idiocy.

This fatuous fakery works for the story, of course, but that doesn’t make it any the less irritating. Although — who knows? Calamy’s many fans may find her various fraudulent personae charming. This is a French film, after all; all she has to do is look sufficiently winsome and all suspicion falls away. That’s what Calamy’s cuteness does — which, admittedly, may be true to life. To which Stephane – if that is who she is — might privately say that if you’re so easily fooled, you deserve what’s coming to you. And that, as it turns out, may be something very nasty indeed.

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