“Natural Enemy” (“L’ennemi naturel”)
Deeply Disturbed People
Never released on American DVD, “Natural Enemy” is the story of a detective who has to unravel the circumstances of a teenage boy’s death. The main suspect is the boy’s father. Evocative and somewhat elusive, this French drama tells a deeply introspective story about people who are deeply disturbed by one thing or another.
Lieutenant Luhel (Jalil Lespert) is an inexperienced detective called in to investigate the death of a teenager in a small Brittany town. Luhel is in such inner turmoil about his own sexuality and his new role as a dad that he can’t pull himself together. He becomes obsessed with the victim’s grieving father Serge (Aurelien Recoing), a hothead who has a natural and raw ability to be truly naked in every sense of the word and that is exactly what Luhel is desperate to achieve.
Pierre Erwan Guillaume’s feature debut “The Natural Enemy” is an uneven tale of repression and obsession. It is beautifully shot with a talented cast but the fact that penis envy is the theme takes away from what could have been a top-notch thriller. When a young man’s body is found among the boulders of the Breton coast, Lt. Luhel is called to investigate. The local police believe the death was an accident, but the boy’s mother (Lucy Russell) is convinced her ex-hubby Serge was responsible for their son’s death.
At first unwilling to draw conclusions, Luhel becomes suspicious once he locates the drunk, naked Tanguy sleeping off a bender in his wood shed. We immediately sense and see he contrasts between the two men: Luhel is dry, rational and passionless, whereas Tanguy alternates between semi-violence and dark introspection. The more the cop digs into his suspect’s monumental sexual appetite, the more like a witch-hunt the investigation becomes. Soon he ignores pleas from wife Nathalie (Florence Loiret-Caille) to come home, and imagines Tanguy is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his school-age daughter, Adele (Doria Achour).
Tanguy’s penis seems to cast a spell over Luhel, causing him to act erratically. He sublimates his own desire into vindictive anger. The landscape also has a starring role in the film— dark, silent panoramas create a probing commentary on the unexpected rages that unsettle Luhel’s normally rational exterior. Yet these gorgeous seascapes become less important as the movie moves forward as if to hint that their importance is abating.
Luhel lacks self-assurance as he investigates. Everything he does seems to backfire on him and he is the person to blame when things go wrong. Serge plays around because his sexual appetite is insatiable and Luhel is impressed with his sexual appetite and secretly falls in love with him.
When Luhel is with his wife and child, he says he enjoys that “normal ” life , but it’s obvious to the viewers that he is trying to persuade himself. Is he his own natural enemy is the question we ask?
Unlike other crime dramas where there is a well-honed plot which ends with the mystery tidily explained, this film has very little plot and no clear resolution. A great deal is left to our imagination, which is both frustrating and strangely liberating. Director Guillaume leaves us with a bleak existentialist mystery which he invites us to dissect and analyze at. If would probably help to read a bit of Sartre, Foucault and Camus beforehand.
Because this is a first film for the director we sense his inexperience in a number of places – most notably in the uneven pacing and slightly caricatured secondary characters. However, these imperfections do not hurt the film’s impact and, if anything, they add to its charm. Had the film been more polished, it would probably had far less of an impact.
The lead actors, Jalil Lespert and Aurélien Recoing, two of French cinema’s finest are excellent throughout. Lespert brilliantly shows gauche sensitivity as convincingly as Recoing shows brooding self-confidence. Both actors put in incredibly intense performances that convey the great inner torment of a soul wracked by dark sub-conscious desires. We see a harrowingly realistic portrayal of two men who have reached the limit of their endurance and who see nothing but darkness ahead of them. Neither character is willing to accept the truth of his identity, so both are drawn inexorably to the precipice of self-destruction.
The abstract nature of its subject, the explicit sexual imagery (carried to excess in some places) and the lack of a closed narrative will not appeal to everyone and this is a film that is not particularly comfortable to watch. Indeed it does exert a very tight vice-like hold on the spectator, and explores themes which few filmmakers are brave enough to tackle and does so in a refreshingly honest and imaginative manner. The film is skillfully made, insinuating and challenging, beautifully filmed and intriguingly edited. Lespert is remarkably transparent as a young man in way too deep at work and unable to control his fantastic imagination. His youthful hyperactivity contrasts cleverly with Recoing’s sheer physical presence. Their scenes together have a mercurial quality that’s utterly riveting.
So it’s interesting that with such edgy characters that this is an almost elegiac film–quiet, hesitant, often totally silent with only flashes of passion. The perspective sticks closely with Luhel as he prowls and spies, often for the wrong reasons. His life disintegrates before our eyes, while the pieces of Serge’s secret fall gradually into place. Guillaume continually keeps us at arm’s length and this is frustrating. The film is developed with a feeling of impending fatalistic dread and there we can do but step aside.