Relationship dramas are a tough breed of film to nail perfectly. Then toss in an age gap, and you’ve got a film that is one bad sequence away from feeling like ‘˜To Catch A Predator’ or one goofy sequence away from seeming like a skit from your favorite weekly sitcom. However, there are the occasional classics. The soon to be Criterion-approved ‘˜Harold And Maude’ is easily one of the best and most noteable age-defying relationship film, and while this film isn’t nearly as good, nor does it have as large a gap between the two leads, Patric Chiha’s ‘˜Domain’ is definitely a film that proves that if done right, this type of film can thrive.
‘˜Domain’ follows the story of Pierre, a teenager, and looks at his relationship with a woman in her thirties, Nadia. A student, Pierre is drawn to his older aunt, a mathematician, but soon finds out that she is far more flawed than he had expected. Fighting a battle with alcoholism which is only made tougher with her pessimistic view on the world and those who inhabit it, the two, and their relationship, plays the film’s primary focus for its 110 minute runtime.
A flawed film, ‘˜Domain’ is also a moving look into a relationship, and also what it’s like to watch a person that you genuinely love and admire, fall as far from grace as humanly possible. A devastating look at a series of topics from illness to the idea of abandonment, ‘˜Domaine’ may feel a bit cold and distant for those who are looking for something a bit more bombastic, but will feel brutally intimate for those looking for something a bit more brooding.
The film thrives when its star, Nadia, is on the screen. Given a breathtaking performance by iconic French actress Beatrice Dalle, one can see why writer/director Patric Chiha (making his directorial debut) wrote the script with her in mind. Playing the role of the neo-nihilistic mathematician with a penchant for booze, Dalle not only gives the character a shocking sense of brood and impending doom, but an even stronger sense of dignity, in the face of her vices.
Coming to the film’s conclusion, her performance only becomes more palpable, as the sense of abandonment once felt on the shoulders of Pierre now comes to her, when she discovers that her nephew has recently found himself a boyfriend, who (not so shockingly) is older than he. It’s this strong sense of being abandoned by people that not only fuels Nadia’s pessimism towards the world, but also plays as the overall concept behind Chiha’s rather moving film.
Isaie Sultan is great here as well, taking on the role of Pierre, but is ultimately asked to do far less than his co-star. Best described as a blank slate, Pierre as a character is one to have most of the film happen upon him, save for the one decision he does make, to leave his aunt. However, there is a deeply powerful sense of longing he evokes, and there are also an occasional beat here and there where you realize that he himself is not only dealing with his love for his aunt, but also the fact that he’s a gay man. It is this inner struggle that, and it’s the same struggle materialized in Dalle’s performance, holds this film’s head above water.
Making his debut with this film, the film’s primary flaws rest upon the shoulders of this still very green filmmaker. Visually, the film seems to riff on the style of many more intimate directors, think Olivier Assayas’ ‘˜Summer Hours,’ with some artistic flourishes ala Derek Jarman sans the impressionistic touches. It’s a distant film aesthetically, something that poses quite a problem for a film that should feel like you are a fly on the wall. However, featuring a great soundtrack and some music cues that are absolutely killer, one feels as though Chiha is definitely a filmmaker to keep the absolute keenest of eyes on.
Overall, ‘˜Domain’ is a quietly moving picture that feels far too long and far too distant. Spearheaded by two fantastic performances and a director who is still looking for his voice both narratively and aesthetically, ‘˜Domain’ feels a bit scatterbrained, but for those who give this film a chance will find a moving portrait of two people seemingly abandoned by the world. This is simply one of the most interesting films this young year has to offer.