About to be gutted and killed, a fish (Pierre Lebeau) tells us the story of Bibiane (Marie-Josée Croze). She is the image of success. Running several fashion stores at 25, a legacy from her family, she is even interviewed in a magazine on her secrets. But behind the scenes, Bibiane ist struggling with a sense of aimlessness, with drugs and alcohol, and even with the business itself. After a particularly bad night, she drunkenly gets into the car, hits a man (Kliment Denchev) and speeds away. When she hears that the man died, she has to figure out what to do. But it isn’t until she meets his son Evian (Jean-Nicolas Verreault) that a new direction seems to open up.
Maelström is a weird film that is a far cry from Villeneuve’s later works. But it does show the promise of the filmmaker he became since. It’s not a must-see, but it’s interesting enough that you want regret watching it should you catch it.
The most memorable part, for me, was the framing device: a fish telling the story in some kind of hellish fishmongery, getting interrupted a couple of times through its own death, before resurrecting and continuing. Not only was the fish a fantastic design, the idea alone make this the framing of the film prepares us that the film isn’t as dramatic and dark as it sounds – there is a certain sense of humor here, albeit one with a bitter tinge. That sense of humor is also present in the main story of the film.
But I would hesitate to classify the film as a comedy nonetheless. The humor is sly, and overshadowed by the heaviness of the story and the grandeur of its themes that are all about guilt and responsibility and unintended consequences. Yes, there is absurdity in the fact that the man’s death being discovered because Bibiane and her friend complain in a restaurant about the quality of the octopus. The man was the fishmonger responsible for octopus and when the restaurant realizes that they were supplied by someone else, a search party is sent out for the original fishmonger. But at the same time, it’s a pretty harsh thing, isn’t it, that nobody thought to look for him before that.
Villeneuve and Croze keep Bibiane likeable, despite the many questionable choices she makes in the film, to put it mildly. We see her struggles, and we get why she’d react the way she reacts. With Evian I had a little more trouble. He is afforded less time and depth, and his decisions remain a bit more mysterious.
Altogether it is not a film that spoke overly much to me. I found it most interesting when looking for clues to the filmmaker Villeneuve would turn out to be and less the filmmaker he was at the time. But there is definitely a sense of style in the film that keeps it interesting.
Summarizing: not bad, but don’t expect something of the quality of later Villeneuve movies.