Fantasia 2018 Review: DANS LA BRUME Is A Crafty Survival Thriller
It is sometime in the very near future, and a strange but severe earthquake has not only knocked the power out across all of Paris. The tremor has also has released an ocean-sized toxic plume from under the city; a heavy mist that is fatal if inhaled. 99% or more of the human population in city is killed (some animals are spared, some not) as the cloud fills the cavernous streets, leaving only the apartments at the highest levels uncontaminated.
In the middle of the chaos, Mathieu and Sarah manage to get to their elderly neighbours' penthouse suite, which just peeks out from the top of the mist like the edge of a riverbank. They are forced to leave their daughter in their unit, not to die, as she has a medical condition that keeps her 24/7 in an air-microfiltered high tech bubble. Sarah's tiny glass and steel bedroom inside her bedroom has a remote smartphone App and everything, so that parents can check in on both Sarah and the system's batteries.
These sets of problems comprise the thrust of the film: How to evacuate an acutely environment sensitive tween girl and a septuagenarian couple first out of the ten floor walk up, and then out of a city blanketed in poison? And even then, the few points of truly high ground are consumed violence by the people who managed to squat there (riots and crowds are witnessed from afar through binoculars to conserve the films modest budget). Oh, and the Mist is slowly rising, the batteries that power Sarah's containment bubble are a few floors down in Anna and Mathieu's flat (longer than one can hold their breath) are finite and need to be swapped at regular intervals.
While hardly reinventing the wheel in the Survival Movie genre, Daniel Roby's Dans La Brume (or its dreadful Engiish title, Just A Breath Away) does have an air-tight screenplay (ahem) that keeps raising the stakes from one set-piece to another.
Shot with a series of sickly yellow-ish translucent filters reminded me of Denis Villeneuve's Enemy, and juxtaposed with cold blue ones to modulate the mood of the film. Another Villeneuve picture, Sicario, saw cinematography by Roger Deakins conduct a master-class in this approach, perhaps it was appropriated here, in somewhat of a shorthand appropriation. Intermingled are some pretty intense, almost spartan, visual sequences: One involving an angry canine and a spill off a bridge is particularly memorable, but another navigating the slanted and precarious rooftop maze of the city (birthplace of Parkour) is likewise compelling at length.
Boiled down to action, reaction (or inaction!) with a few disquieting (but universal) moments of emotion, fleshing out character and background takes a back seat to the clock always running out. Every object is a Chekhov's gun (albeit the film thankfully as very few actual firearms - this is France, not America) that when the camera or character notes something, it will come into play later. This is economy of storytelling at its finest, in the wider genre, for all its 'last remaining survivors' concepts, is admittedly overcrowded. No zombies, ghosts or monsters here, as is the usual mode of this kind of film (Night of the Comet, The Fog, The Mist), just silence and urban geography.
Here is what elevated the picture for me personally, however. Buried in all the genre conceits is a sly little criticism of, let's not mince words here because it is fully textual at points, 'bubble-wrap parenting.' Sarah is treated like a precious object by her resourceful parents: Anna is a scientist, and a convincing enough played by Ukrainian model-turned-Bond-Girl-turned-actress Olga Kurylenko, Dad is an all purpose action hero, occupation unknown, but versatile French star Romain Duris seems to be channelling Hugo Weaving at times, and that is a pleasure to watch.
Stripped of agency by both extreme circumstance, as well her parents -and perhaps the audiences- suffer a failure to see what is right in front of them, and I expect that is going to be a stumbling point for some as the film completes the full arc of its sly thesis.
For all the day-to-day emergencies and fires that need to be put out that we call 'life,' we should probably focus less on solutions - there will always be fresh problems - and prioritize some quality time before it is too late; or in the case of time and age, the caregiving tables are turned).