Film review: ‘THE BEAST’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Loosely inspired by Henry James’ novella The Beast In The Jungle, the beguiling, occasionally disturbing, sometimes funny and at times brain boggling French-Canadian science fiction film, The Beast sits beside Slaughterhouse Five and Cloud Atlas in the ‘fascinating head scratcher’ sub-genre.  This is one of those films where characters shift through different realities appearing at different times and in different places and seemingly as different people as a way of conveying their battle with personal trauma and its impact on their identity.

Lea Seydoux plays Gabrielle, a young woman living an uncertain and troubled life in a sterile AI-controlled 2044 Paris. Seemingly because of the damaging effect of a broken relationship, she has chosen to undergo a DNA purification process which will apparently remove negative memories and personality traits. The process, however, takes her back through different experiences that seem to be various past lives including one as a famed pianist in early 20th century high society and another as a struggling actress in LA in 2014. In each she encounters the same young man Louis (George MacKay) but in very different contexts. The film conjures a palpable air of mystery and even threat around this guy as we wonder why he features so prominently in Gabrielle’s life.  Is he the mysterious beast that Gabrielle feels is stalking her?

As well as those movies already mentioned, there’s a clear debt here to films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and David Lynch films like Mulholland Drive – there’s even a heart wrenching Roy Orbison song used as a motif. There are also traces of dystopian sci fi films like the challenging work of Russian auteur Andre Tarkovsky. Additionally, there’s the intertextuality of Lea Seydoux having played Belle in Christophe Gans 2014 remake of Beauty and the Beast.

The film touches on a range of troubling contemporary issues such as climate change, the rise of AI, the loss of humanity amid a technology driven world, the commodification of women and destructive misogynist incel culture.

Its scattergun images and references make this a perplexing puzzle at times and those who recoil at non-linear narratives may be grinding their teeth although the film’s logic does become reasonably clear and it’s by no means as neuron frying as films like Cloud Atlas or Predestination.

Lea Seydoux is typically wonderful giving Gabrielle a mix of strength, gnawing self-doubt, ordinariness and mystery.  George MacKay is also excellent playing Louis as distinctly different people in the various past life scenarios.

Despite some conceptual bumps along this film’s journey, assured direction from Bertrand Bonello, striking cinematography from Josée Deshaies, excellent production values as well as the terrific cast performances make this unusual and intriguing film one of the more memorable cinema experiences of 2024.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Drama/ Comedy/ Animation.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Bertrand Bonello.

Release date: 16th May 2024.

Running time: 155 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm on 88.3 Southern FM.

 

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