Only the Animals (Seules les bêtes) is a French thriller based on Colin Niel’s book of the same name. It is essentially one story, that of a murder, but told from several perspectives. Each new vantage point shares hidden details, and all have an unexpected outcome. Director/co-writer Dominik Moll’s Rashomon take, tinged with slight echoes of William Faulkner’s Sound & the Fury, with just a hint of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his famous soliloquy, is intriguing and keeps one guessing as to the how and why.
The mystery opens with a very odd scene in a shantytown on the Ivory Coast where a young African man, Armand (Guy Roger’ Bibisse’ N’Drin), is riding a bike with a goat strapped to his back to visit a type of mystic. You are left bewildered about this scene and the man’s actions in these hot, dusty, and poverty-stricken streets. Then, quickly there is a cut to winter-frozen farmland in rural France. This is just one of many contrasts that the director presents throughout this two-hour feature. The cast of characters Alice (Laure Calamy), her husband, Michel (Denis Ménochet), Alice’s lover, Joseph (Damien Bonnard), the lonely wife, Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), and the lonely wife’s lover, Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) all appear to be cold and emotionless on the outside but possess a brazen, fire on the inside.
“…a lonely woman seeking passion from Evelyne, her young female lover, has died in France…”
As Only the Animals shifts to its mystery thriller, in a stark, rural farming community of sheep and cow farmers and where modern-day life has more of a grip than one would ever realize, the characters and film plot begin to evolve. Big wide angles offer stark contrasts along with the incredibly realistic set direction. Again, this all provides an even more profound dramatic effect and is used often throughout the production.
An abandoned car has been found, which is Marion’s. An officer is questioning neighboring farmers, including Joseph. Love affairs are exposed, and accidents occur, yet what appears to be a line of drama is not connected to what seems to be the most obvious of threads. Back in the Ivory Coast, a cybercrime is being committed. Perhaps not very known to many, Moll provides a lens to Armand’s life in a very different type of world where poverty and money, along with mysticism for profit, are everyday happenings, and it is all pretty fascinating. Marion, a lonely woman seeking passion from Evelyne, her young female lover, has died in France, but there’s a twist to the motif, victim, and perpetrator that will keep you glued to the screen.
Every story, five altogether, is told in a chapter titled by the character’s name it follows. Between a wife’s infidelity, her lover’s demise, her husband’s idiocy, a grifter’s ruse, and a deferred and bizarre tale of sex trafficking, there’s much to discern about our modern-day afflictions, distrust, and desperation. These themes are apparent, especially in Moll’s world within poverty, wealth, and sex trafficking. Throughout Only the Animals, the filmmaker has placed certain symbolic clues for a character’s reaction or query, but, as in real life, they are all ignored, perhaps because everyone is searching for something they cannot obtain even if it’s directly in front of them.
"…everyone is searching for something they cannot obtain..."