Fabienne Godet’s film is a singular and sensorial study on obsession. Nominated for a cinematography award at the Lumière Awards in 2014, and winner of Best Actor for Benoît Poelvoorde at the Magritte Awards, A Place on Earth has a simple, straightforward narrative of poetic quality, punctuated by the wonderful original soundtrack of François-Eudes Chanfrault.
Antoine Dumas (Benoît Poelvoorde) is a photographer whose best friend is a seven year old boy, Matéo, the neighbour’s son who likes to dress as a princess. Antoine’s days are suddenly made more interesting by the sound of a woman, Elena (Ariane Labed) playing Chopin with such passion that he feels drawn to photograph her with a long lens, Peeping Tom style. At New Year’s Eve, while at home preparing dinner with Matéo, Antoine’s voyeuristic habits give him a first row view of Elena’s suicide attempt. His intervention saves her life, and the two become friends. That does not stop Antoine’s secret photo sessions, while by daylight helping Elena in physiotherapy, and supporting her to finish her thesis on Atlantis.
A film of smoke, water and reflections, with a cinematography that does not embarrass its photographic theme, A Place on Earth makes us wonder what are the limits between Art and Life, and when is it okay for an artist to intervene on reality, or try to change it. And it is not only about Antoine, that decided to enter his muse’s life; Elena also, in a crucial final moment, decides to break the rules and go explore by herself the depth of the ocean looking for her own personal obsession, Atlantis.
As we said, there is nothing extraordinary about the narrative, but Godet shows such skill telling this story, we cannot stop being stuck to the images in front of us, just like its protagonist. His directing and mise-en-scène mastery reaches a peak on the confrontation scene between Elena and Antoine, when she goes to his place and sees the photo wall/altar full of her private moments. Instead of going for the usual witty and incisive dialogue that we are usually presented with during these scenes, Godet takes the sound out, and lets the soundtrack present the drama. In a sense, it’s the old Lost in Translation method – by not letting us know what they said to each other, the best dialogue possibilities will always be open in our mind, and better than any spoken words.
Maybe this is not the right film to watch if you feel slightly depressed, but on a rainy, colorless day, it may just be the perfect companion.
You can watch “A Place on Earth” at the MyFrenchFilmFestival until 16th February.