As a feature film directing debut, Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s Carré Blanc is sure to make a strong impression on the filmmaking community, and the impressionable audience member who wanders into this dystopian view of the world’s future. Shown as part of the World Cinema section at the 2011 AFI FEST, Carré Blanc is a relatively short film by festival standards, at only 80 minutes, but the impact of the film, both stylistically and theoretically, will have you thinking about it for much longer.
Carré Blanc leaves one wondering exactly how the film is going to play out, and to be honest, it is a tad confusing and off-putting at first. Opening on a snow storm, a lone polar bear walks, as a woman’s voiceover narration tells the story of the first bear dying, culminating in talk of monsters, and how they will get you too. Then the introduction of the ‘voice’ over a loud speaker begins, notifying the people of this alternate future that at the chime it will be 800-726-???? (as any number sequence can fill this space, and will throughout the film). This voice on the air exists throughout the film as a not so subtle nod to ‘big brother’ from other works of narrative, specifically George Orwells “Nineteen Eighty-Four“. This becomes even more evident when the voice responds directly to characters who are not abiding by the rules, or on the verge of veering away from them. In another direct reference to a past work is the factory scene that is also included in the beginning of the film. Body bags are being hung, and then packaged meat, all neatly ground up like ground chuck, is shown moving down the factory line, wrapped in plastic, ready to be sold. One does not have to think very hard to figure out the meat is human, and in this future of dying resources the dead have become what sustains the living. Visions from Soylent Green now enter the mind. It only takes a few minutes to understand that Director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti will borrow from well-known science fiction narratives in order to tell his story in Carré Blanc, but Carré Blanc exists on its own terms.
We first meet the main character of the film, Philippe, when he is a young teen and his mother has just thrown herself off the balcony of their apartment–right after telling him he will pretend and do it well. Pretend what? Philippe is shuffled off to a boarding school, a dark concrete walled place where the students do not speak to one another and the teachers use unorthodox methods in order to bend the will of their students, and weed out the ones who do not belong in society. This method is of course violence–and violent acts are considered part of the game, and a game must have a winner and loser, and Philippe has just won his first game. The violence is sickening, very much on par with the feelings brought on by Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. This method of conditioning will bring about the consequence of Philippe’s future career as one of the worst manipulative game instigators that exists.
Leonetti’s film is about Philippe (Sami Bouajila) and his wife Marie (Julie Gayet) in their later years, having both attended the boarding school and grown up in the controlled space of society. She is miserable, wanting Philippe to see what he does not and realize what he seems incapable of. The flashbacks to their childhood will continue, pieces of the puzzle revealing themselves ever casually in order to solve the question that has plagued the viewer from the beginning, “who or what are the monsters?” A clear sense of desperation and fear permeates the film, as does strangeness. The voice in the air asks teens if they want to be artificially inseminated, and tells them they do not need their parents permission. It also praises those who have children, announcing their name and the child’s to the people in great celebration. Then there are the bouts of dry humor scattered throughout, a wonderful one being the voice announcing the music for the evening, and then remarking it is the same music that has been playing. And of course the obsession with Croquet, a favorite topic for all and one of the most important things a good citizen can be involved with–a nod to Aldous Huxley of course. The strangest just may be the man who stands guard at the parking garage who is ordered to smile as a car approaches. His smile is not genuine, it is controlled–as everything is controlled.
Like the logo of the capitalism fueled corporation that controls this world, a square with multiple squares inside of it, Leonetti’s Carré Blanc world is one of many placed inside of another. It is a story of a crumbling marriage due to differences in the wants and needs of their current states; it is also about a man who takes pleasure in belittling people and causing them pain in order to teach them to think more analytically, or merely to exert power over the weak. There are also the larger issues at play, those of conformity in a controlled society and free will. The fear of one losing themselves to become normal, as normal is the ultimate monster. Carré Blanc can be a variety of things to any one viewer, which is part of its sadistic charm. It requires patience on the part of the viewer, but your patience is rewarded when the magnitude of this piece of science fiction film as artistic expression culminates at the end.
Information on the film, and free tickets from AFI FEST: Carre Blanc