SKIN OF MAN, HEART OF BEAST (Peau d’Homme Coeur de Bête)

With a volatile streak of energy, this French drama is much more visceral and meaty than most. It examines its themes with real blood and guts, not always successfully but giving us plenty to chew on. Frankie (Riaboukine) is a cop on a forced holiday to spend time with his two daughters–teen rebel (Guinand) and adorable 5-year-old (Hinderchied)–who live with his mother (Jansen) and younger brother (Cervo). Back home he falls into his old carousing ways … and then after a 15-year absence his other brother (Blancan) appears, and doesn’t seem quite right in the head.
There’s an overwhelming physicality to this film that makes it almost hard to watch. The contrast between the two brothers and the two young sisters is strong stuff, with the younger brother right in the middle, choosing his course. These separate stories merge remarkably. It’s all a bit constructed–and some key plot points are annoyingly skipped over–but there’s a terrific, unpredictable level of tension that grows from the beginning, combined with a deepening sense of impending tragedy. This astute examination of the legacy of violence through three reunited brothers is reminiscent of the devastating 1998 Australian film “The Boys”…although this film is less tightly constructed, more heartbreaking and ultimately perhaps just a little more hopeful.

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