The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - ONLY THE ANIMALS | The Movie Waffler


only the animals review
A group of strangers on two separate continents share a connection to the disappearance of a woman in rural France.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Dominik Moll

Starring: Laure Calamy, Denis Ménochet, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Damien Bonnard, Guy Roger N’Drin, Nadia Tereszkiewicz

only the animals poster

In Dominik Moll's dual-continent-spanning, Rashomon-esque crime thriller Only the Animals, everyone seems to be either hiding behind a false identity or putting on a front. An unhappily married couple goes through the motions while seeking extra-marital thrills elsewhere. A middle-aged society belle keeps her homosexuality out of the public eye. A farmer goes along with his lover's desires while secretly harbouring something close to a necrophiliac lust for his dead mother. A young African man poses online as a beautiful young French girl to swindle money out of gullible European men. Only a young waitress is upfront and honest about who she is and what she wants. It's the latter character who innocently and unwittingly triggers off a series of mishaps that lead to murder, suicide and misery on two continents.

only the animals review

Moll breaks his film up into distinct chapters, each focussed on a specific character, as he dismantles his narrative by moving back and forth through its timeline, dishing out information and clues in a manner that keeps us on our toes for the bulk of its running time. We first meet Alice (Laure Calamy), a social worker in snowy rural France who is madly in love with one of her clients, the reclusive, Norman Bates-alike farmer Joseph (Damien Bonnard). During her daily dose of afternoon delight with Joseph, Alice notes that he seems distant, even more so than usual. On her way home, Alice passes a car abandoned on the side of the road, and that evening she is visited by a local cop (Bastien Bouillon) who informs her of the disappearance of Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a well-known Parisian who was holidaying in the locale. The gendarme hints that he may suspect Joseph, though he has no evidence beyond the farmer's odd demeanour.

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Moll then takes us back in time to the first meeting between Evelyne and Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), a pretty young waitress with whom she launches into a steamy affair. When Evelyne calls off their relationship, Marion refuses to take no for an answer, thus becoming another suspect in the former's disappearance. Then we're taken not just back in time, but to another continent, to the Ivory Coast capital of Abidjan. There we meet Armand (Guy Roger N’Drin), a young man taking his first tentative steps into the lucrative world of online catfishing. Taking Armand's bait is Michel (Denis Ménochet), who just happens to be Alice's husband.

only the animals review

I won't reveal any more plot details, as half the fun of Moll's film comes from receiving the narrative nuggets he gradually feeds us. Needless to say, the plot thickens like day old custard. Some of Only the Animals' twists may appear to rely a little too heavily on coincidence, but the appearance of a Shaman, to whom Armand goes for a blessing for his dodgy business venture, suggests that its disparate players are brought together by a higher power than random chance. Only the Animals opens with Armand riding through town with a goat tied to his back, an image echoed later when a character trundles through the French snow carrying a human corpse strapped to their back. It suggests that Armand has become something of a living voodoo doll whose motions affect the French characters like avatars in some grisly game of Nintendo Wii. (This second world digression reminded me of Lars Von Trier's excellent '90s mini-series The Kingdom.) There's a delicious irony to the fates of a group of Europeans being decided by a combination of ancient spiritualism and modern day technology.

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With any story that opts to unravel its narrative in non-linear fashion, the question inevitably arises as to whether it would be just as involving if told in a conventional manner. I've always found this a mute point, as sometimes the tale is simply in the telling. Only the Animals is thematically rich enough to keep us involved had Moll simply dished everything out in a straightforward style, but there's no doubt that the time-travelling teasing out of its details is its greatest strength. This becomes clear in its dying scenes, by which point we've been granted all the exact details of the mystery at hand and the film has nowhere left to go. I'm not entirely sure that Moll's timeline entirely holds up, but I gave myself a headache trying to figure out just where the pieces fit in this regard.

only the animals review

Moll's narrative trickery might have come across as superficial were it not for the talented ensemble cast he's assembled here, featuring some of France's less starry but most under-rated performers, along with the great Italian actress Tedeschi, who is undergoing something of a relatively late blossoming in recent years. Her scenes with Tereszkiewicz, who is surely a star in the making on the strength of her turn here, give the film its heart and cement its theme of the trouble we can find ourselves in when we refuse to remain true to our real identities. 

Only the Animals is on MUBI UK now.