CM – Cannes Review: « The Restless »

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Belgian director Joachim Lafosse awakens the Cannes Film Festival competition with The Restless (Les Intranquilles), a story about a man who cannot sleep.

Damien (an excellent Damien Bonnard) is bipolar and prone to manic episodes. During this time he doesn’t take a break for days, rushing around trying to fix and get everything done. He lives in a comfortable country house with his young son Amine (Gabriel Merz Chammah) and his caring wife Leïla (Lela Bekhti), who makes furniture in a workshop on the premises. Damien has his own workshop: he is a successful painter, a profession that seems to suit his temperament. But when he gets into another manic episode that we learn and refuses to take his medication, Leïla is at the end of her tether.

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It’s a quiet, engaging portrait of a loving couple in a conflict neither of them wants to enter. They clearly enjoy a deep connection, but when Damien is in manic mode, he has a hard time realizing that Leïla is only trying to help him if she suggests medication or – worse – a hospital visit. The performances, the direction, and the script help the audience see both sides of the story; Thanks to the director and his team of co-writers for their personable approach to their characters.

While the couple discuss Damien’s condition, the effects are mostly shown. There is a surprising, uncomfortable scene when a sweaty, wired Damien drops Amine at school even though Leïla tries to stop him. He runs into a store and buys a basket of cupcakes, runs into the classroom and explains that he is taking the whole class to a picnic. Here pity turns to Damien’s son, who is quietly humiliated but also worried about the father he loves. It is clear that this is not the first time he has experienced this type of behavior, which makes it all the more poignant. Unsurprisingly, the director himself had a Bioplar father.

Lafosse received praise for his 2012 film “Un Certain Regard”, “Our Children”. His first competition entry is strong and also touches on the pandemic. In a post-lockdown world not dissimilar to our current one, many characters routinely wear masks. When Damien storms into the shop, he and his wife are reprimanded for not wearing masks. He utters a dismissive but revealing line suggesting that he is a Covid denier, a conspiracy theorist. All of this colors his character in a very current way.

The Restless doesn’t maintain that level of energy or interest throughout, but it’s a class act that explores the challenges of accepting and living with a condition – and with it a glimmer of hope for humanity and relationships.

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