Miami 2020 Review: ONLY THE ANIMALS, Mystery and Loneliness in Five Acts
Humans are frequently (if not almost always) slaves to our baser instincts: the need for shelter, sustenance, and human contact see us make irrational and sometimes deadly decision, with no regard for those around us. Pair this with the complications of marriages, employment, community, etc., and there is where most mysteries begin and end. And the community of the world, even with more than six billion people, is smaller than we think.
French director Dominik Moll's latest film, Only the Animals, is told in five sections, set in central France and the Ivory Coast, and follows a small group of people whose connections that should bind them together ends up tearing them apart. The need for attachment, or for money, leads to a desparation that brings out the worst in everyone, unfolding against backdrops of a world that is lonely and empty, whether in the middle of nowhere or surrounded by people.
The film begins in Abidjan, with young man Armand rather inventively transporting a goat to an unknown recipient. We won't be back here for a while, and we are transported to rural France in winter. Laure, a social worker, is having an affair with her client Joseph, who seems at best indifferent and at worst dismissive of her affections. Her husband Michel also seem to care little. We soon learn that a local woman, Evelyne is missing, her car (seen by Laure) abandoned on a lonely road. These lives and others all intersect in ways that are both deeply trouble, very sad, and quite believable as we understand the pull of loneliness and the overwhelming need to know that someone, somewhere, can't live without us.
Each of the stories unfolds around a different character - Laure, Joseph, Marion (a waitress has a connection with the missing woman), Michel and Armand - and each gives us more information to the mystery. This is less a nail-biting thriller than a slow-burn drama; Moll wants to think less about the destination and spend more time on the journey, understanding each sublte movement and the motivation behind it. This is not to say that the mystery isn't interesting, far from it; the more layers are pulled back, the more intriguing the story becomes, and you're hanging on every detail.
And Moll give those details in part to know the truth of the mystery, but more how human need and consequent impulsive and disasterous actions led to it. We're so often quick to draw conclusions about why someone is acting strangely, or one person might feel less than another, thinking all this is about us and not about them: are feelings are motivated by so many factors that often it is impossible to explain, and our base desires drive us in ways that, even though we all feel it, it can be impossible to articulate.
The scenes in France are frequently shot wide, emphasizing the physical distance which echoes in the characters, and the thin layer of snow that echoes the layer of seeming coldness as each character must live within their own skin, unable to connect even with their closest loved on. This is contrasted with the scenes in Abidjan, where life and activity seem to be teeming, and yet even there, loneliness and the need for recognition (in this case, in the form of the status that comes with money) are only made more palpable.
As the story reaches its climax, and the consequences of characters' action resonate on a wider scale, they each realize how, sadly, their desires are considered inconsequential when added together - or at least, when desires in two people don't match, there is rarely happiness on either side. Even the few characters who seem to get what they want, aren't made happy by it. The desire to stave off loneliness comes with a price, one that will either break you or kill you.