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BRIFF 2021

Review: Dark Heart of the Forest

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- Serge Mirzabekiantz delivers a feature debut that is sensitive and bewitching, about two lost souls who are looking for love but are not sure what kind

Review: Dark Heart of the Forest
Elsa Houben and Quito Rayon Richter in Dark Heart of the Forest

With Dark Heart of the Forest [+see also:
trailer
interview: Serge Mirzabekiantz
film profile
]
, which had its world premiere in the National Competition of the Brussels International Film Festival, Serge Mirzabekiantz delivers a feature debut that is sensitive and bewitching, about two lost souls who are looking for love but are not sure what kind.

It all begins in the woods, where a worrying, mysterious and sometimes dissonant tune echoes the sound of the wind brushing through the trees. We plunge at the heart of the forest with Nikolaï, a fierce and solitary 16-year-old young man, whom we follow on his way back to the foster home for underage kids where he lives. 

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Although Nikolaï is among people his age there, he is isolated. He does not seem to share the same challenges, the same desires. He is younger than them, but also older in some ways. But when he sees Camille, it’s as though he was called by her loneliness. Perhaps with her, he could break his isolation. And imagine a future. 

Camille, meanwhile, has other problems. A repeat offender, she lives with the Damocles sword of the law constantly hanging over her head. Abandoned by her mother at birth, "forgotten" by a father who started another family elsewhere, she too feels completely alone. 

Against all odds, Nikolaï and Camille, two lost children looking for love, will team up to create what they miss the most: a family. Their own. 

The story unfolds in three chapters, one centering Nikolaï’s perspective, then that of Camille, and finally a more encompassing one, which we shall not discuss here. The scenes are duplicated, thus gaining in meaning, which in turn makes the story’s stakes and the narration more complex. The veil is raised on a few persistent grey areas. 

Starting from a few very classical motifs (the theme of young parenthood, seen in films as different from one another as Juno and Keeper [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
interview: Guillaume Senez ­
interview: Kacey Mottet Klein
film profile
]
), Serge Mirzabekiantz offers a personal and engrossing variation on this classical theme, putting the young couple at the heart of a forest that has as much to do with the fairy tale as with the bad dream, a terribly organic forest, shot by talented cinematographer Virginie Surdej (Our Mothers [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Cesar Diaz
film profile
]
), and which seems to be in conversation with the characters, its rumblings like so many lines of dialogue which only their instinct can decrypt. 

Nikolaï and Camille, helpless due to the absence of a family unit in their lives, face life with their hands bare. Although their aims are distinct from one another, they eventually conjoin, as one of them seeks to realise his secret fantasy of the perfect family, while the other is looking for a framework to welcome her own. The profound melancholy in their eyes seems to irresistibly attract them to each other. 

The director has enlisted two fantastic actors to play them. Although this is the first ever role played by Quito Rayon Richter (the film was shot in 2019), who lends Nikolaï intensity and mystery, we will soon see him again in Les Passagers de la nuit by Mikhaël Hers (alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg, Noée Abita and Emmanuelle Béart, no less). Elsa Houben, meanwhile, is already embarked on a rich career on both the small and the big screen, but this role, which she takes on with raw energy and a most convincing determination, hints at opportunities for other profound roles in her young career. 

Dark Heart of the Forest is produced by Hélicotronc (Belgium) and Sacrebleu Productions (France). International sales are handled by TVCO.

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(Translated from French)

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