Berlin 2015: 'Chorus' review

A festering beauty of a film slowly reveals itself in this bleak but uplifting black-and-white study of grief from Quebeçois director François Delisle, an acutely aware portrait of a relationship after the unimaginable. Fresh from Sundance - where it was largely unnoticed - Chorus (2015) arrives in Berlin held together by two remarkable performances from Fanny Mallette and Sébastien Ricard as a separated couple who reunite after their missing son is found ten years after his disappearance. The film cold-opens in a police interrogation where, presumably after some time in prison, a convicted paedophile (Luc Senay) haunted by his actions recounts his murder of an eight-year old boy.

The son's mother is Irène (Mallette), a 40-year-old singer in a medieval music choir, whose repressed memory of her own son's loss comes to the surface when a colleague introduces her to a newborn baby. Her ex-lover Christophe (Ricard) fled to Mexico, where he conducts life with reckless abandon, having sex urgently and intensely and is haunted by visions of his missing boy. When DNA evidence links Irène and Christophe's son Hugo to the remains exhumed by police, the two meet for the first time in years, surrounded by snowy Montreal that no doubt represents their relationship frozen in time. In perhaps the film's most disturbing scene, they find themselves in a shocking subversion of a corpse identification - less a recognition, as there's barely anything left that marks the body as human.

For ten years each has wandered aimlessly, parents, as Irene says, to "an invisible child". Each find solace in their escapes: for Irène, it's her music, for Christophe it's the beaches and seas of Central America. The film's grace is that it methodically and purposefully asks whether anything can ever help this couple move on. Even a long-delayed funeral does nothing to allay the situation and help them to closure. Delisle, acting as his own cinematographer, creates sharp visions of black and white that highlight the lack of interaction this couple has with normal life. They retreat from sensitivity, from interaction with others, from the feelings they once felt but feel guilty about reacquiring. But even set in wintry Canada, this isn't quite the chilly, austere drama that it seems at first sight. There's an aesthetic beauty to the visuals, a curious eroticism that lights up towards the film's conclusion that suggests some rebirth in both their lives. Of course, there's no easy dénouement to this family horror. But when they find themselves face-to- face with one of Hugo's best friends, Antonin, in a coffee shop, they feel, for the first time in years perhaps, not loss but a regaining of the feelings of family they once had. Chorus is a film that, if you stay the course with its unremittingly dark tone, offers profound insight, that is does not fail to move in its final, heartbreaking scenes.

The 65th Berlin Film Festival takes place from 5-15 February 2015. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.

Ed Frankl | @Ed_Frankl


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