We are, so one particular theory goes, all connected. And there’s another, more specific one, which says we’re all separated by just six degrees. Director Dominik Moll’s Only The Animals has bought into both theories big time, but they’re just the start of a tale full of links, twists and heartbreak that spans continents.
It’s a story where we don’t always whole picture – in fact, we rarely do, so fans of police procedurals will lap this up – and where just about everybody is hiding behind one mask or another. The catalyst is the mysterious disappearance of a woman in rural France during a freezing cold winter. And each of the main characters is connected to her somehow, some more than others, from a young waitress to a solitary French farmer who lives near her holiday home to a scammer in Africa. Although this review won’t reveal the exact nature of their connections: it would literally spoil the fun.
Much of that enjoyment is the way the director drip feeds details, some of which are thrown casually into the mix, playing on our assumptions and mischievously toying with us and our reactions. The opening sequence is a case in point, with Armand (Guy Roger ‘Bibisse’ N’Drin) riding through an African town with a goat tied to his back. How does this connect with the snowy French landscape, on the screen just seconds later? It does and, even if the narrative relies a little too much on coincidence, it’s an image that repeats itself later as technology casts its spell over the proceedings. There’s more than a little of Kurosawa’s Rashomon at play here but, while that dealt with one single incident, this is more of a jigsaw where the pieces connect to form the intricate complete picture.
Divided into segments, each concentrating on a character’s story, the film takes a non-linear approach to the narrative, teasing out the various elements of their part in the puzzle. It’s one of the film’s strengths, although after a while it seems that Moll is having so much fun with his approach that it gets dangerously close to being superficial trickery rather than an interesting and challenging way of delivering the story. But substance comes in the form of a powerful ensemble cast, from the always impressive Denis Menochet as an unhappily married farmer to newcomer Nadia Tereszkiewicz as the waitress who stands apart from the other characters in being honest with herself.
That self-conscious toying with the audience gives Only The Animals a hint of smugness which threatens to undermine the tension as well as standing in the way of giving the film’s themes a proper airing. But it’s impossible not to be drawn into its web and trying to solve this intricate puzzle. You’ll be well and truly entertained along the way.
Drama, Crime, Thriller | Cert: tbc | Curzon Home Cinema | Curzon Artificial Eye, 29 May 2020 | Dir. Dominik Moll | Denis Menochet, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Guy Roger ‘Bibisse’ N’Drin, Damien Bonnard.