Pompei (2020) *** Berlinale | Generation 14Plus

February 22nd, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Anna Falgueras, John Shank; Cast: Garance Marillier, Alioche Schneider, Auguste Wilhelm, Vincent Rottiers; Belgium/France/Canada 2019, 90 min.

French first-time writer director Anna Falgueras and Belgium-American writer/director John Shank have created a feature which looks stunning, but the palpable atmosphere of loss and abandonment cannot make up for an under-worked script, in an unspecified time and place.

Twelve-year old Jimmy (Wilhelm) older brother Victor (Schneider) are orphans, their only sanctuary is a cement bunker they call home. A crowd of younger children hang out with Victor and his older mate Toxou (Rottiers), the pair are small time criminals eking out a paltry existence digging for old coins in the nearby hills, and selling them on to a middleman. Then along comes Billie (Marillier), who once tried to gas her parents after seeing a warning about the end of the world on TV. She carries a gun and, not surprisingly, has been expelled from school. Billie and Victor fall for each other, and the gang pay good money to watch them making out, through holes in the wall. Victor and Toxou spend most of their time repairing their banger. When Victor and Jimmy find a valuable bronze bust, the latter wants to sell it, cutting out the middleman. Jimmy is torn between loyalty to his brother and the criminal code, but Victor asks Billie to elope with him, before selling the bust. Toxou finds out about Victor’s treachery, and beats him up. Billie finally runs away from her parents, but it all ends in tears.

DoP Florian Berutti conjures up images that echo early Malick features, and PD Alina Santos creates a world worthy of Mad Max. Schneider and Marillier have palpable chemistry, but Wilhelm’s Jimmy often steals the show. This is an impressive debut, but the writers leave the audience with too many unanswered questions. It may be cool to be enigmatic and opaque, but even a minimalist approach needs proper building blocks to set the narrative on fire. AS



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