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July 5-11, 2006

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Photograph by Philippe Quaisse
Not-So-Good Charlotte: Charlotte Rampling plays a sullen wife and bad dinner guest in Dominick Moll's 'Lemming.'

Rodent Trip

Severely paranoid 'Lemming' crosses two French couples with a Scandinavian mammal

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

IT IS oddly serendipitous that the two lead characters in Dominick Moll's new film, Lemming, are played by actresses named Charlotte. As in Bergman's Persona, they seem to meld into one another, adopting each other's personality traits. Bergman's characters eventually broke through some kind of emotional comfort barrier, revealing ugly truths, but it's clear that Moll (who made 2001's art-house hit With a Friend Like Harry) has something more like Hitchcock on the brain. His Charlottes were created for sneaking up on people in the night, appearing out of silhouette as if from a nightmare. Unlike Hitchcock, however, whose plots were models of clean lines and logical avenues, Moll is more interested in subverting everything familiar and in leaving stones unturned.

Lemming begins on a night in which everything "comes undone" in the lives of an upwardly mobile French couple. Alain Getty (Laurent Lucas) designs flying surveillance cameras, built to locate leaks and whatnot while homeowners are absent. The movie opens with a thorough demonstration of this gizmo, which will then no doubt be put to more sinister purposes. Alain's boss, Richard Pollock (André Dissolver), is so impressed with his young protégé that he invites himself to dinner. Alain's sexy wife, Benedict (Charlotte Gainsbourg), arranges a polite French dinner, and Richard shows up with his sullen wife, Alice (Charlotte Rampling). Before the meal is done, Alice accuses her husband of whoring and throws wine in his face. Later that night, the Gettys find a lemming stuck in their kitchen plumbing, doubly odd because this Scandinavian rodent isn't supposed to live anywhere near France. Things get stranger a few days later when Alice flirts with Alain in his lab, then drops by the younger couple's home to tell Benedict about it.

From there, it's not advisable that any more plot be discussed or disclosed. Suffice it to say that Moll's screenplay (co-written with Gilles Marchland) takes viewers on a Mr. Toad-type ride with sudden, right-angle twists that jump straight out of the darkness. One character—a la Pulp Fiction—dies and returns in a later scene. Another scene comes bursting forth like a vicious outtake from Willard. To make matters even more severe, Moll includes a sequence near the middle in which Alain crashes his car but hallucinates the events of the next several hours. Moll never positively explains whether or not these hallucinations might actually be real, nor how long they actually continue. Sheer, undiluted paranoia becomes the emotion of the hour.

As hinted earlier, the two wives begin to merge; one recites the exact words that another said in total privacy, and insists on being called by the other's name. And yes, our title lemming comes into play not only by adding physically to the paranoia, but also thematically. An expert explains that the creatures' mass suicide each year is only a "romantic" myth—they just can't swim very well. Maybe so, but who can really read the mind of a lemming? Moll's film is equally unreadable. It, too, may just unexpectedly invade your private sanctuary—twitching, squirming and biting.

Movie Times Lemming (Unrated; 129 min.), directed by Dominik Moll, written by Moll and Gilles Marchand, photographed by Jean-Marc Fabre and starring Laurent Lucas, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Charlotte Rampling, opens July 7 at Camera 12.

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