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Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sheitan (2006)

A suspiciously ethnically diverse group of youths get kicked out of Club Styxx the day before Christmas Eve because Bart is even more of an idiot than the rest of them and starts a fight with a bouncer. Luckily, or so they think, one of them has pulled a young lady called Eve, and so they now have somewhere to go for Christmas: Eve's place in the country. Unfortunately as her name would suggest (there are lots of symbolic names in this film), Eve has enticed them into something beyond anything they expect.

Eve's place is large but not in the greatest shape, something I'd love to own. However it's also a pretty freaky place, partly because of the proliferation of dolls the belong to her father but mostly because of the people, especially Joseph. Joseph is the goatherder, shepherd or housekeeper or whatever, but he's played by Vincent Cassel so is completely out there with all the sort of psychotic charisma that you'd expect if you've ever seen him in anything at all, not least La Haine. He has plans, twisted ones for sure, but plans nonetheless and he's not someone you'd generally want to mess with.

He takes a fondness to Bart, for reasons that aren't what we initially suspect, and he's full blown psychotic enough to carry us wherever he feels like taking us. It's not a pretty ride though it ends in a freaky version of a happy ending. I don't know how much Cassel put into this film, beyond a powerful performance, but he was already a well established name by this time and he produced too. Writer and director Kim Chapiron, on the other hand, was pretty new, having only made one previous film, a short also starring Cassel and Olivier Bartélémy, who plays Bart here. It would seem that these people all know each other pretty well, especially as there's a credit: 'we thank particularly Monica Bellucci', Bellucci being Cassel's wife.

It's all done very well, the preponderence of French gangsta rap adding to the unnatural feel of the thing. It never plays the way we expect, it consistently seeming to be heading in the traditional slasher vein but never actually getting there. Cassel dominates but Bartélémy is solid too, playing a young asshole so well I'm not sure I'd ever actually want to meet him. He's probably the nicest guy on the planet and it would seem so wrong.

The multiethnic cast includes Nico Le Phat Tan, Leïla Bekhti and Ladj Ly, who look completely different yet merge together nicely as a clique. Eve is played well by Roxane Mesquida but her part is a lot subtler than anyone else's in a film that is full of far from subtle performances. She's like Marilyn in The Munsters, there to serve entirely as the normal one of the bunch, but she's also the reason that it can all happen. She's definitely Eve the temptress. Julie-Marie Parmentier gets a much wilder part as Jeanne and it would be fascinating to see her in something else just to see how different she could be.

What really resonates though is a line at the beginning of the movie before we see anything: 'Lord, do not forgive them for they know what they do.' It's easy to see Joseph and his family as the 'bad guys', if viewing with the classic Hollywood mindset of 'good guys' and 'bad guys', and they are, but that's a terrible way to read the film. These 'bad guys' are really the ones who care most. There also really are no 'good guys' in this movie, except maybe Jasmine who is literally discarded, sacrificed if you will, by her friends. Juggling around what each of these characters actually means is a telling thing.

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