- Guillaume Canet offers a variation on the theme of the artist struggling for inspiration but fails to allow the viewer full access to the lead character’s tormented mind
Me, me, me, or the rather more nuanced me, myself and I forms the focus of Guillaume Canet’s new film Lui [+see also:
film profile], which was presented in a premiere at the Namur International French-Language Film Festival and which he wrote, directed and stars in himself.
"He" (Guillaume Canet) has hit rock bottom. This Parisian musician short on inspiration leaves his wife and kids high and dry to go recharge his batteries in an isolated and mysterious house which creaks with age and perhaps the weight of the past, and which sits on the edge of a cliff. Borrowing heavily from the codes of fantastic film, the movie’s mise en scène encourages us to believe that “Lui”/He isn’t there by chance and that He isn’t entirely at peace with himself, either. By way of this retreat, he’s running away from his professional responsibilities just as much as his personal duties, towards his wife as well as his mistress. There’s undoubtedly something which he needs to exorcise, but what? Incongruous visitors soon make an appearance to offer up the beginnings of an answer to this question.
But events take a strange turn. Telephone conversations give way to fantasy conversations where, like a seriously ill soul in the throes of paranoia, He summons his wife (Virginie Efira), his parents (Nathalie Baye and Patrick Chesnais), his children, his friends (Mathieu Kassovitz, Gilles Cohen) and his mistress (Laetitia Casta) to his bedside, so that they might help him identify the origins of his ill: why, Oh why is he such an “arsehole” (I quote)?
He enlists help, therefore, to embark upon this examination of conscience, and he settles scores. But, first and foremost, he tries to imagine how strongly his nearest and dearest might want to settle their scores with him. Until he faces facts: it’s all very well trying to exorcise our demons by projecting them onto others; the real and only enemy hides within us. Unless it’s prowling around up there, in the attic. That would certainly explain a few things…
With Lui, Guillaume Canet is returning to a meta register which he previously explored in a comedic (and rather ironic) key in Rock’n’Roll [+see also:
film profile], but which he uses here to move closer towards the fantastic or psychological thriller genre. So yes, "I is someone else". "I’ve got a double who lives within me", He writes, moreover. The figure of the double is a recurrent theme in film, and it doesn’t come as a surprise, though it does feel a bit late, when it eventually bursts onto the scene two thirds of the way through the film. At which point, the character, He, imposes himself as the only real subject of the film: Guillaume Canet in the midst of an ego crisis.
We’re guessing that lockdown and its accompanying postponement of film shoots got the cogs turning in the French director and actor’s mind, and that he seized this opportunity to get all of his existential questions down on paper, starting with: how can you be a good person, or failing that, be happy with what you have? But his exploration doesn’t quite work, especially when the excessively large cast who have placed their trust in him and who seem to be playing luxury bit roles, find themselves churning out atrocities which the author himself labels as such, or when the latter seems to explain away his character’s weaknesses by condemning his double rather than asking where he came from, or when the fantasy film potential ends up under-exploited.
Arguably, Lui could have offered up a more in-depth reflection on fatherhood, on the reality of being a man, a son, a husband, a lover or a friend at a time when the patriarchy is being seriously called into question, but the project restricts itself to a stylish yet superficial depiction of megalomaniacal delirium which is observed with too much or too little self-derision.
Lui is produced by Trésor Films in co-production with Caneo Films (France) and Artémis Productions (Belgium). International sales are managed by Pathé who will release the film in France on 27 October, with O’Brother Distribution releasing the film in Belgium on the same date.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.