I’d heard of the wild reputation building around this film before I had seen it. Still, the vague comments combined with a French-Canadian director of whom I was unaware only made me feel ambivalent about what to expect. I’ve seen one too many would-be auteurs as of late completely drunk on their own stylistic excesses to keep from driving their movies into a tree. The first few minutes on screen didn’t necessarily set me at ease with the introduction of the narrator; a talking fish about to be slaughtered. However, as successive scenes rolled back and forth in time a master plan was soon revealed.
It begins with our heroine, Bibiane (Marie-Josee Croze). A beautiful young fashion designer, her professional life is going very well. Personally, things aren’t so good. Following an abortion and a brush-off from the man responsible, she’s in a pretty foul mood. After a night of drugs and alcohol, she accidently clips a jaywalker on the drive home. Realizing what she had done the next morning, she later finds out the man died from his injuries. Consumed by guilt, she contemplates suicide. That is, until destiny reveals its plan for her.
In the end, destiny, or the mysteries of fate, is what this film is really about. A “mælstrom” is defined as a large, violent whirlpool from which there is no escape. Another term that describes this movie is the “butterfly effect”. In meteorology it describes the belief that all weather is part of such an enclosed, integrated system with so many variables that something as innocuous as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can have enormous effect on weather conditions a great distance away. In this film, a given scene might roll back through a previous scene to a specific action only to follow its repercussions in a separate direction. For example, something as small as a complaint in a restaurant concerning the freshness of an order of sushi can initiate a series of consequences leading away from the complainer toward the discovery of another character’s death.
The theme of destiny then comes into play as the story bounces around and continually intersects Bibiane and other characters. As such we see how our heroine’s fate following her abortion leads not only to an accident that brings her much guilt but also to her eventual absolution and just maybe true love. Sounds clever, huh? Unfortunately the film comes off kind of gimmicky, too. Of course if the talking fish and other stylistic flourishes were meant to leave a slick sheen attracting the far to hip “Pulp Fiction” crowd, it doesn’t necessarily succeed there either. Not too far below the gloss you can still feel director Denis Villeneuve’s beating heart and the fondness he has for his characters. Because he does, you and I can too. I know it’s much easier to gain a person’s attention with a bright flashy object, but emotional honesty and good will go a long way toward establishing any kind of real, personal connection. With this in its favor, perhaps fate will be just as kind to “Mælstrom.”