So… what to make of this one? Sombre, by Philippe Grandrieux, is about a man with an unhealthy style of living his mediocre life. He lives, day by day, in a listless stupor, with weird movements and a hazy but determined outlook on the world… and then he kills prostitutes. Just another average day for the man. He is mechanical in his proceedings, as if he weren’t really a man, but a machine whose working parts all interlock and operate him into doing this thing called “life”. And then he meets a woman, subdued in nature like him, who just might be able to spring him from the order and emotionless existence he is stuck in. That is, if he doesn’t kill her first. Of course, this might be hard to do for a serial killer, but that’s why we’re watching; to see if he does or not.
It’s not just the plot that is sombre, like the title; it’s just about everything that makes up this film. The whole film appears deliberately underlit, so that there is a shadow, or fog of darkness, hovering over the camera the whole time. This obviously makes it rather hard to see most of the time (putting it mildly), but it also casts an eerie sense of foreboding over everything; a perfect mood for the subject matter. The camera was very odd; always moving, always wandering around the frame, and never settling on any static image at one time. It wasn’t done with an air of uncertainty, though; it was intentional, which made the task of figuring out the film even more complex. It also drifted out of focus at times, which added to the mystique of trying to work out the film’s choices in doing so. The editing was also very unorthodox; I’d be interested in seeing the script for this, to see if that’s how they put together the film, or if they literally just shot extraneous footage and then somehow figured out what went where.
Even with all the melancholy and ennui, this is a surprisingly empathetic picture. The caveat, of course, is that we’re being empathetic towards a serial killer, which might ruffle a few feathers for some, but anyone with an open mind and a curious nature will be able to partake in Sombre and walk out the other end with a good number of things to say. Now, for those that might actually give this a try, you should know (if you haven’t picked up on it already) that this picture is a slow one; for almost two hours, most of the so-called “action” is the camera lingering on its subjects, capturing their emotions and thought processes for us to examine – a character study if there ever was one. So, people looking for a whiz-bang frenzy of a picture would do best to look elsewhere. People looking for a surprisingly fine study into the mind, personality, and life of what we would consider a monster of a man, Sombre will be a sleeper hit for you. Gotta love unassuming films that you never would’ve heard of, that surprise you in more ways than one; Sombre is just such a film.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10