Seasonal Unaffective Disorder

Washington City Paper | June 26, 2006
Writer-director Ra’up McGee’s debut feature, Autumn, is also a crime story—supposedly. A repeated flashback shows a red leaf falling in slow motion as a blank-faced kid beats a drum. A bad guy rummaging through a trash bin somberly tells a startled street urchin, “Every day I wake up frightened. Like you.” The characters most often communicate not by dialogue but by gazing into each other’s eyes. In other words, this is a mystery trapped in an et cetera.

It’s a puzzle to be solved, certainly, but McGee provides few useful pieces. The flashback, which takes place in a forest, at least reveals that Jean-Pierre (Laurent Lucas); his girlfriend, Michelle (Irène Jacob); and his best friend, Andre (Benjamin Rolland), have known one another since they were kids. Beyond that, how most events and characters connect to each other is anybody’s guess.

Michelle delivers parts of explosives for Hugo (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), a slobbery dude who attacks her while giving her an English lesson. Jean-Pierre is apparently familiar with him, because he knows exactly where to go for retaliation after seeing Michelle’s black eye. Noël (Michel Aumont), a crime boss, hangs with the young and perpetually unsmiling Veronique (Dinara Droukarova), who is likely an assassin, though it’s hard to tell because she repeatedly backs out on killing anybody. There are also a couple of kids who rough up someone or other when necessary. Andre borrows money from everybody, which seems to be the impetus for a lot of violence.

There’s also a mysteriously important Pulp Fiction–esque briefcase involved; naturally, its contents and location are unknown to those who want it most. Noël seems to be the owner, but maybe not. Either way, a few case-seeking characters eventually turn from being merely criminally inclined to executing double- and triple-crosses, at which point the audience will probably be just about ready for a good old-fashioned art heist.

The actors are suitably intense, especially Lucas and Jacob, whose comely couple spend a lot of time in the bathtub together. And though Hugo and Noël are one-dimensional, Dreyfus and Aumont inarguably elicit, respectively, disgust and the fear of God. But the spare film’s images are more evocative than either its characterizations or its narrative. A warehouse that Michelle and Jean-Pierre find themselves in is stark contrast to her warm, light-filled apartment. And where better to have a showdown than in a dark Métro station? The problem with McGee’s twin homage to Bresson and Tarantino is that its characters look great on a deserted beach but tend to use guns only to smack or oh-so-briefly intimidate people, not to shoot them. Even the pacifists in the audience might grow impatient.

Ditto for anyone not enamored of austere enigma. If only McGee’s characters would talk a bit more—and not about Brittany’s delicious crepes, the topic of a conversation that decides whether a couple of outlaws will travel together. “You don’t have to say anything,” Michelle tells Jean-Pierre—but that’s one unambiguous statement Autumn could do without.

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