Director: Alice Winocour
Writer: Alice Winocour, Jean-Stéphane Bron
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy, Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant, Percy Kemp
Part of: Scope100 (last year, I participated in the Scope50 project)
Seen on: 6.1.2015
Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a soldier who struggles with PTSD after a tour in Afghanistan. While he’s home, waiting to be cleared for service again, he makes his money working as private security together with his friend Denis (Paul Hamy). They get a job at a party for a Lebanese businessman and Vincent is immediately suspicious of everything. Things get worse when he is asked to look after the businessman’s wife Jessie (Diane Kruger) and their son for a few days. Vincent feels drawn to Jessie but he can’t really trust his own perceptions: is he hallucinating or is there a real threat?
Maryland deeply impressed me. Not only does Winoncour manage to create an unbelievable amount of tension, Schoenaerts is absolutely hypnotic in his role. I was glued to the screen through the entirety of the film.
When I discovered that Maryland was part of the Scope100 movies, I was simply overjoyed. Not only was I wating for Winocour’s second film since I saw her first, Augustine, but Matthias Schoenaerts has yet to make a film where he isn’t excellent. So the two working together really had my expectations way up high. Fortunately, Winocour was more than up to fulfilling those expectations and Schoenaerts delivered the best performance I’ve seen from him so far, soaring high, high above those expectations.
From the get-go, you are with Vincent. So much so that you can feel his suspicions and sense of unease creeping up on yourself – not only because of Schoenaerts (I can’t stress enough how good he was) – but because Winocour manages to bring Vincent’s inner life to the cinematic exterior. This creates an enormous amount of tension, particularly with the help of the soundtrack by Gesaffelstein. Usually when I watch films at home, I get easily distracted (one of the reasons I watch so many movies in the cinema), but with Maryland my eyes were glued to the screen. I simply could not look away.
A case can be made that Maryland comes very close to racism though. After all some of Vincent’s suspicions about the evil of Middle Easterners seem to be proved right. Personally I do think that it’s debatable how much was actually proved, but in any case my reading of that is that it needed the set-up of the blond woman and the innocent child who have to be protected from the “bad arabs” for Vincent’s PTSD to bloom fully into psychosis. And ultimately that trigger pushes him over the edge so that he himself cannot be trusted with Jessie’s safety anymore. To me that means that the stereotypical set-up is more of a symptom of Vincent’s inner life than an actual reality, but honestly it might be a tenuous argument that I’m only trying to make because the rest of the film is so goddamn good.
But as much as a critical distance is necessary after the film, while it lasts I’d recommend letting yourself get caught up in the events and in Vincent himself and you’re going to be in for one hell of a ride.