By Rich Cline | December 31, 2002

Arthouse guru Ruiz is back with another elusive, indulgent French film, this time with a terrific psycho-thriller plot. On his 9th birthday, Camille (Hugon) starts acting a bit strange, calling his mother Ariane (Huppert) by her first name and saying his real mother lives somewhere else. Indulging him, Ariane goes off to the address he gives her and unleashes a chain of strange events involving Isabella (Balibar), whose recently deceased son would also be 9. Fantasy collides with reality in a very strange way as everyone tries to figure out who’s crazy here.
Well, they all are! Yes, each character in this film displays seriously unhinged behaviour before the storyline gets to the end and unravels the mystery (very cleverly, I should add). And this is the best aspect of the film, as we try to figure out who is in touch with reality and who isn’t. OK, so it’s all otherworldly, as none of these creepy people act like human beings; Huppert gives another stony-faced yet oddly moving performance, while the much-more expressive Balibar is smiling then scowling, both funny and scary. Yet Ruiz directs the film with such an aloof style that we are never given a chance–the camera glides incessantly as characters wander around staring obliquely through each scene, background objects move around and major chunks of action are just missing, waiting to be filled in later. This confusing, lifeless direction leaves us out in the cold … until a couple of surprisingly gripping twists in the tale at the very end, when we see what has really been happening all along. And why Ruiz calls this a movie about Don Juan’s childhood.

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