Out of Time: Close-Up on Damien Manivel's "Le parc"

Damien Manivel’s second film feels not just out of place in the current cinematic landscape, but out of time as well.
Lawrence Garcia
Close-Up is a column that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Damien Manivel's Le parc (2016), which is receiving an exclusive global online premiere on MUBI, is showing from February 10 - March 12, 2017 as a Special Discovery.
Modest in scope, yet not without its own peculiar ambition, Damien Manivel’s Le parc is the kind of film that feels not just out of place in the current cinematic landscape, but out of time as well. A park bench is the starting point of a hesitant date (between Maxime Bachellerie and Naomie Vogt-Roby), which proceeds, languorous, across static compositions of trees and shrubbery, past a couple shaded in a grassy corner, through a casual game of soccer on a gentle slope. Conversation is halting and banal, as it is in most such encounters; psychoanalysis and Freud are mentioned. “Your everyday gestures, thoughts and actions are analyzed. They all mean something,” says the boy, quoting his hypnotherapist mother. But Manivel's vision isn't so much a fulfillment of that approach as it is an active resistance, a conscious draining of easy affect and meaning. Running a mere 70 minutes, Le parc proceeds at its own pace, its sense of time distended and otherworldly, recalling the singular temporal feel of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, particularly Blissfully Yours. (The amorphous beauty of a cloudy sky is but one connection.) The title suggests an Edenic space, and the pair—shrouded by brambles and golden sunlight, reaching out for their first tenuous connection—make for an unassuming Adam and Eve. A pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes marks the pair’s separation; a texting exchange, superimposed on-screen, provides the sole “dramatic” point, the boy revealing that he's still in love with someone else. In an unhurried series of near real-time shots, emotions recede with the waning light of day. “I want to turn back time,” the girl says, and it's a testament to the film that, despite its setting, such a pronouncement doesn't strike the viewer as an impossibility. And whatever one's response to Manivel's placid rhythms, Le parc’s final shift—a slippery, Stygian plunge into darkness—is certain to linger long after the last frame fades. After it’s over, what was once easy and familiar—and what’s more familiar than a stroll in the park?—is just a touch more unsettling, more strangely beautiful than before.

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