Lovers of friendly, fluffy creatures lured in by the suggestion of this French thriller’s English title are set for a grim surprise. There are just two animals with any screen time worth mentioning in Only The Animals, and one of those is shot dead. As for humans in director Dominik Moll’s foreign language puzzler, well, one is murdered, another takes their own life and all struggle with unrequited love, greed or temptation.
After a short, lively opening scene in which a goat is transported through Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on a man’s back, we’re transported to Causse Méjean, a rural plateau in southern France caught in the grip of a snowy winter. Alice, played by Laure Calamy from acclaimed Netflix series Call My Agent!, is a farmer’s wife who sells insurance to – and is having an affair with – Joseph (Damien Bonnard, fresh from energetic urban reworking Les Misérables). Glum Joseph is still grieving the loss of his mother the year before, but evidently has other, newer worries on his mind too. Meanwhile, prominent Parisian Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) has gone missing on the plateau, with only her abandoned car offering any clues as to her whereabouts. But does Alice’s grumpy husband Michel (Denis Ménochet) know anything about it? And why is he so keen to sit in his farmyard office and miss dinner?
After watching events unfold from Alice’s point of view, we learn more as the film takes on Joseph’s narrative. Eventually, we swap again to follow Marion (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), a beautiful waitress who becomes obsessed with Evelyne after they embark on a short but passionate affair. Finally, we dig into the life of Armand (Guy Roger N’Drin), a con artist in Abidjan who has his own romantic problems.
Filmmakers have enlivened their action using different character perspectives on the same events since iconic Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made Rashomon in 1950. Yet the technique has never really gone away. In 1997, Quentin Tarantino made Jackie Brown – arguably his best film – using similar techniques. In 2014, David Fincher kept audiences guessing with his atmospheric mystery thriller Gone Girl.
While Moll’s film isn’t as revelatory as Rashomon or as stylishly accomplished as Gone Girl, he’s still crafted an engaging, well-acted drama out of Colin Niel’s source novel. Ménochet, who gave a masterclass in malevolence during 2017’s Custody and will soon be seen in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, is first-rate. N’Drin unexpectedly evokes sympathy as he falls foul of bad luck, love and his poor life choices. While Tereszkiewicz’s depiction of the callow, lovesick young adult we have all been is heartbreaking.
With its snowy setting, murder and intrigue, Only the Animals has the air of a French Fargo. There’s also a Scandi-noir flavour to the aesthetic, so it’s no surprise to learn that Moll also directed two episodes of The Tunnel, the British-French remake of Swedish TV hit The Bridge. If that still doesn’t sound creepy enough, then Benedikt Schiefer’s brooding score will help to exacerbate the dark deeds on screen. This is not a movie for those feeling the effects of isolation.
- Director: Dominik Moll
- Starring: Denis Ménochet, Laure Calamy, Damien Bonnard
- Released: May 29 (Curzon Home Cinema)