On DVD: Vinyan: Lost Souls
A troubled young couple undertake a journey into unknown waters, hoping against hope it could lead to an alleviation of the sadness which is pulling them apart. Paul Martin initially shares in the psychological tension, before misstep after misstep leaves Vinyan sinking to murky depths
Indiemoviesonline.com, 26 October 2009
I would always have guessed that Emmanuelle Béart and I share little in common. She’s a girl. I’m a boy. She’s French. I’m a pasty Brit. And she smouldered opposite Tom Cruise in 'Mission: Impossible', whereas I can’t even get within fifty feet of the Couch-Bouncing King since he took out all those pesky restraining orders. Yet 'Vinyan: Lost Souls' sees Mademoiselle Béart’s character, Jeanne Bellmer, experience a bone-chilling nightmare which precisely mirrors a long-held fear of mine, as she finds herself cloistered within a crowd, all of whom are clad in the uniform of Manchester United. Now, in Jeanne’s case, this terrifying confabulation has naff all to do with footballing principles and is instead an expression of the spiralling mental torment she feels over absent son Josh (vanished in the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, wearing a Man U shirt at the time). But the bemusing sequence is also indicative of how Vinyan falters in its final third, with the attempt to deliver a horrific, hallucinatory climax falling flatter than Wayne Rooney on the shameless lookout for a penalty.
As the movie opens, Jeanne and her spouse Paul (Rufus Sewell) are residents of Phuket in Thailand, quietly agonising over the loss of Josh. Attending a social engagement, Jeanne is left stunned when she thinks she spies her son in the background of a charity video highlighting the plight of trafficked children in neighbouring Burma. The footage is fuzzily indistinct – like the photograph in Antonioni’s 'Blow-Up', it seems to grow more ambiguous the closer the scrutiny it comes under – and Paul is unconvinced, but he agrees to try and gain entry into Burma with Jeanne so that they might search for Josh. Having been relieved of some serious dough by a shifty underworld duo, they are put in contact with impressively frizzy-coiffed fixer Thaksin Gao (Petch Osathanugrah), who supposedly possesses the connections to assist them. The married couple are left deflated after a cruel disappointment however, and Paul suspects their guide is ferrying them on a wild goose chase in order to line his own pockets. Matters only take a turn for the worse as Jeanne becomes ever more detached and the possibility of passage back to Thailand vanishes, with the farang pair finding they need to worry less about Gao’s scamming and more about the threat lurking in the depths of the Burmese jungle.
'Vinyan: Lost Souls' is the work of Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz, who attracted international attention for his previous movie, the horror 'Calvaire'. And for the first hour of his latest directorial offering, Du Welz appears to have crafted a picture destined for even wider acclaim, as he weaves a scenario riddled with tension, uncertainty, and emotional authenticity. He is ably assisted in this latter regard by his two main actors – Sewell and Béart conveying a sense of nervous isolation as their characters are forced to operate in wholly unfamiliar territory. Sewell is impressive throughout, a convincingly brittle bundle of anger and guilt. However, while Béart also performs admirably, the escalating mania of her Jeanne Bellmer corresponds with the point at which Vinyan starts to unravel.
The problems really begin to emerge for viewers and Bellmers alike once the latter have been separated from Gao and are left to fend for themselves in Burma. Psychological realism is given the heave-ho in favour of traditional horror movie shtick, with Paul and the near-drooling Jeanne stumbling across feral kids daubed in war paint and a jungle fortress that couldn’t look any dodgier were it constructed from severed limbs. The portrayal of Burma as a whole is less than satisfactory and leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, as what is in reality a deeply troubled state with an oppressed, poverty-stricken populace is recast as a fantasy forbidden zone inhabited by homicidal Morlock children. No counterpoint is offered to this voodoo badlands depiction, and there is no appearance from a Burmese citizen who does not appear to have crawled straight out of the primordial soup. Du Welz misguidedly attempts to cover the cracks in his fragmenting film via increasingly frequent deployment of showily self-conscious dream sequences, fevered visions and subjective point-of-view shots, and his would-be devastating denouement feels similarly artificial, coming across as glib as the final scene of Godard’s 'Week End', only minus the justifying satirical raison d’être of that movie.