Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Lemming, 2005, in French with English subtitles. Directed and co-written by Dominick Mol.

Lemming is a movie that reminds me of the old cliché, "a mystery wrapped in an enigma." How much of the movie is a dream, how much is real? Laurent Lucas is Alain Getty, a computer hardware designer--in this case a flying webcam--who works for Richard Pollock (André Dusollier), the philandering husband of Alice, played wonderfully by the talented Charlotte Rampling. Mix in Alain's wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg as the beautiful Bénédicte, and you have the makings of a four-sided love affair.

Lucas, who looks a lot like a young Martin Landau, is the most innocent of the four until the end. Unless you count Bénédicte, who may or may not be innocent, depending on how much of a dream you think the story is. Alice and Richard arrive for dinner at the Getty's, where Alice proceeds to create an embarrassing scene over her husband's infidelities.

Later she appears at Alain's work and makes a pass at him, which he refuses. Alain's life goes downhill from there. His wife taunts him when she finds out about the pass. Alice told her, then committed suicide in the guest bedroom of the Getty's home. Alain goes to Biarritz with Richard, harangued by his boss for the pass by Alice, telling him he should have taken her up on the offer. Alain calls Bénédicte from Biarritz, only to have her tell him to "go to hell" and hang up the phone.

The "lemming" of the title is a creature found blocking the drainpipe of the sink after the disastrous dinner visit by Richard and Alice. A lemming is found only in Scandinavia, so it adds to the mystery. In the movie's only identified dream sequence, Alain arrives home from Biarritz to find Bénédicte sleeping, but can't wake her. He goes into the kitchen to find lemmings swarming all over the floor. He backs up, falls down the stairs and breaks his arm. When he wakes in hospital he finds that he had not been home, but had been in a car wreck on his way home from Biarritz. His wife tells him there was no "go to hell" phone call, nor did he come home and find lemmings. It was all a nightmare. Poor Alain. The nightmare builds, only we're not sure whether it's real or he's still trapped in his dream. He's really in for it while in the mountains with his wife at his boss's cabin. The wife coerces him into a confession of the pass by Alice, then has him call her Alice while they begin he process of making love. He wakes to find he's been deserted, and has to walk down the mountain, then hitchhike home. When he gets there Bénédicte tells him she is now with his boss, Richard. It's no wonder the poor guy is turning into a paranoid wreck!

In one of the most chilling scenes in the movie, Richard is asleep on his own couch and wakes to see a silhouette in the darkness. It's Bénédicte, who reminds him that Alice told him while making her pass at him that she wants to see her husband "croak". Bénédicte sits back in the darkness, then comes forward again into the light, only to have been replaced by Alice, who gives him the key to her house. She wants him to kill Richard, and make it look like suicide.

SPOILER WARNING! At the very first, before things start to unravel for the Gettys, as Alain arrives home he sees a scene across the street. A man is slapping his young son. It isn't revealed until the last scene why this happened, but it ties the lemming plot element together. The imdb board that discusses this movie is divided on several points, including what is a dream and what isn't. This is the way people's minds work. They've just got to know what is real. One person posits that Alice has possessed Bénédicte, but another argues there's no evidence anywhere in the movie that Alice is a ghost or a witch. And I agree. The part that is driving these reviewers crazy is that Bénédicte is in the room when Alain murders Richard, yet appears not to remember the murder later, or her affair with Richard. Did it happen? Who knows? There are some parallels to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, maybe the most audacious movie I've ever seen for confusing a viewer. At one point all of the characters in Mulholland Drive turn into other characters, and the discussion boards on imdb are full of people trying to explain that, too.

In the case of Lemming I find it more entertaining to just let the ambiguities remain ambiguous. Whether Alain dreamed it, whether it happened, whether there was an unexplained supernatural element is less important than the total mood the movie evokes, and the tantalizing questions left in the moviegoers' minds that they get to argue endlessly over.

Lemming gets four out of five stars on the Paranoia Index.

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