There are so many times where I’ve watched a film and been fascinated by it for one reason or another. A lot of the time I watch films on my own, so I don’t have the luxury of being able to turn to somebody and discuss it straight away. So I do what anybody who’s a little bit of a loner does; I go on the internet and see what other people thought. There have been more than a few occasions that my heart as sank and my bubbling excitement for what I’ve just seen fizzing away as I see that, seemingly, very few people shared my opinion on it. So I’m going to argue the case for films that either simply haven’t been seen by enough people or don’t seem to be very well rated.
So what made me choose this one as my first one? Sometimes known by its other title, Maryland, I watched it very recently and it stuck in my head for a while, making me want to re-watch it and write about it. It stars Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger. For a smaller budget French film about a soldier suffering with PTSD it’s a great cast, it was this alone that made me seek it out. I then found out that director X co-wrote Mustang, a superb Turkish film from 2015.
From what I can see, it’s not particularly well rated but I have to say that I very much enjoyed it. You could accuse the plot of being formulaic. I’d argue that while some elements may be, it’s not just a home invasion thriller. It actually takes a while to move to that stage anyway, the first act of the film concentrating on the lead character and his troubles.
The lead is fascinating, so spending some time in his company is no chore. Matthias Schoenaerts is compelling and very convincing in this role. Early on it’s difficult to know what is real or what is part of Vincent’s paranoia and fear. Often the only thing that helps us tell is the soundscape and the style of the shot, though because we’re sometimes shown it from his point of view, even that becomes difficult to interpret. We’ll come back to both of those elements though.
Director Alice Winocour wrote this screenplay with Schoenaerts in mind to play Vincent. It’s easy to see why she’d be so keen to land him after excellent turns in Suite Francaise, the remake of Far From the Madding Crowd. She admits that she wanted to film him in the way that male directors treat their attractive female leads. So we got lingering shots of his face, some of his body, though it never feels gratuitous. Part of when we do is to highlight the wounds on his back, his physical scars, though the mental ones are the film’s true focus.
While, frustratingly, we don’t learn exactly why Vincent is this traumatised, and we certainly don’t know the full physical extent, there’s incredibly experimentive and interesting use of sound in this film that hint at a lot. Nicholas Becker is behind it, and I was inspired to look up more of his work. Much like the film as a whole, a lot of it is left up to your own interpretation. The direction doesn’t spoon feed you, allowing your brain to think and actively encouraging it.
It is the sound that I was interested in very early on. It wasn’t like every other home invasion film I’d seen. He makes it clear that this break he’s on from active duty is only temporary. For example, a hearing issue is touched upon, making clever use of sound, as well as tying in with hallucinations tat Vincent suffers from. This and the POV style shots give you a first-hand look and feel of this version of PTSD. We see early signs of these on a job he takes as security detail at a party. What the party is exactly about is a mystery but it’s seedy and a perfect is it as dark as it seems test for us an audience to see where we stand on Vincent’s paranoia, or not. Interestingly, the film uses a device that’s quite telling for Vincent. The family’s dog takes an instant like to him, following him around and he in turn always looks more comfortable with the dog than its owners. Dogs are said to be clever and intuitive of whether or not a person is good or evil. The dog can be seen snarling and standing watch at the windows several times before bad things happen but is always affectionate towards Vincent. Another sign that he is essentially good at the core, if not capable of causing great harm due to his training.
The score and the soundscape throughout are probably what interested me the most, it felt like a more unique way of tackling it and making it relevant to the character. It puts you directly in Vincent’s head and into his frame of mind as he grapples to hold onto reality and feel connected to the world around him. When there is sound, there’s actually lots of portions of silence and not even a huge amount of talking at times, it’s often electronic music. Or electronic sounds, sometimes similar to the ringing you end up with in your ears after being exposed to a continuous, loud sound, like an alarm. It certainly helps to build the tension regardless of whether or not anything bad actually happens.
There’s other things we don’t learn either. It leaves you wondering, which might well have been the intention, but it isn’t entirely satisfactory. For example, despite the early emphasis around the Politician Husband of the wife and child he ends up protecting, we don’t know his role. Was him at fault for the attack, was he behind them? It’s left unclear, very open.
It’s the performances that hold Disorder together and make it a good watch. Alongside Schoenaerts, Kruger delivers. She’s almost acting as our eyes at times, both fascinated by, slightly infatuated with but equally wary of the man she hopes is protecting her. They had good chemistry and it was pretty much believable.
There is a question surrounding the very last shot. I won’t spoilt it, but I will say for anybody who has seen it, do we think it is real? Or is another result of Vincent’s fragile mental state?