** 1/2 (out of ****)
The sea-side village, in the French movie “Evolution” (2015), is inhabited only by young boys and women in their 30s. If there are young boys, why are there no men? If there are women, why are there no young girls? Where are the elderly? There are a lot of lingering questions in “Evolution”, few, if any, the movie has answers for
With another movie, the ambiguous nature of “Evolution” may have detracted me more however, I don’t believe the movie is concerned with narrative plot. The movie is about mood, emotions, tone and symbolism. I can’t say I understand everything about the movie, it did have me scratching my head, wondering, where is all of this going?
Directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, whose previous directorial effort was “Innocence” (2004), which featured a cast of young girls at a boarding school, “Evolution” can be interpreted as a story about procreation, male adolescence and the bond between mother and son. In an interview with the film magazine, Film Comment, Hadzihalilovic says the origin of her story was about a mother that doesn’t want her child to grow up and become a teenager.
In the first scene of the movie we are introduced to Nicolas (Max Brebant, making his screen debut) a young boy, who while swimming notices a starfish (a symbol of the movie’s reproductive theme) over the dead body of a young boy at the bottom of the ocean’s floor. When he runs home to tell his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) she doubts his story and upon her own investigation claims to have only seen the starfish. Meanwhile Nicolas is forced to eat wormlike grub and is constantly given medicine, as are all the other boys in the village. After a violent outburst, Nicolas is taken to a hospital, where he is sedated and operated on. He forms a friendship with one of the nurses, Stella (Roxane Duran) and begins to question everything around him. Is his mother really his mother? What is supposed to be wrong with his health? What is in the food he eats and the medicine he takes?
Stella becomes a surrogate mother figure for Nicolas and being a nurse (another use of symbolism), may also be Nicolas’ saving grace and help explain the world around him.
Inspired by the movies of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, “Evolution” has elements of science-fiction, mystery and horror all combined, creating a genuinely eerie mood, due in part to the movie’s soundtrack (comprised of the sound of waves from the ocean, birds and crickets) and sparse dialogue. Its hospital setting also helps establish a sense of danger always lurking around, treating the boys as if they are prey. However, the movie doesn’t follow the typical conventions of the mystery genre, especially by not offering an explanation of characters’ motives. Its subtle hints to a greater reveal of the movie’s plot are too subtle and far too reliant on symbolism making the experience feel unsatisfying, despite its many recommendable qualities.
Visually there is much to appreciate in “Evolution”. Hadzihalilovic is a talented filmmaker but plot-wise “Evolution” feels too reserved. It doesn’t make a grand statement. What does the director want the audience to think as they leave the theater? The characters in the movie aren’t people but instead plot devices. Then again, I must go back to the idea “Evolution” isn’t interested in plot or characters. It is focused on mood and symbolism. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s an evolving process.