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Good People Were Scared of the Left Bank

October 19th, 2010 · No Comments

As days get shorter, nights get longer and All Hallow’s Eve beckons, I can say that I won’t be wandering the streets dressed as Chewbacca begging for candy. What I can’t say is whether or not at my age, horror movies still have any surprises left in them. In the search for originality, it’d be a good idea to start anywhere but Hollywood. For the month of October, I take a trip around the globe to see what’s scaring some of my favorite countries these days.

Left Bank (2008)
Directed by Pieter Van Hees
Written by Pieter Van Hees & Dimitri Karakatsanis
Produced by Bert Hamelinck, Kato Maes, Frank Van Passel
102 minutes

Cut with the same psychological straight razor that splices the great films of Roman Polanski, Left Bank unsettles like only the most powerful thrillers can. After directing several short films in Belgium, Pieter Van Hees was looking to break into features with a project called Dirty Mind, a thriller that had morphed into a social satire. Waiting for financing to fall into place, Van Hees started work on a story “that creeps up in the head of a confused young woman struggling with her relationship.” Having lived briefly on the left bank of Antwerp, Van Hees huddled with writing partner Dimitri Karakatsanis and wrote a script. Brussels-based Caviar Films — producers of commercials, music videos and feature films — had worked previously with Van Hees and raising a budget of €700,000, were prepared to put Left Bank into production ahead of Dirty Mind.

Left Bank is one of those movies that leaves a mark, not with excessive gore or sadism, but overwhelming atmosphere and characters suffering afflictions of modern living that seem almost too real. Its potent blend of sex and mystery gives the film far more weight than what usually plays in American theaters. Left Bank picks up where Rosemary’s Baby and Blue Velvet left off, with an exceptional cast, highly effective sound montage and a disquieting musical score composed by electronic group Eavesdropper and featuring cellist Simon Lenski. While Van Hees and director of photography Nicolas Karakatsanis took visual cues from movies as disparate as The Shining, The Thin Red Line and The Yards, the film swims the same currents as The Ring or Dark Water, driven not by a boogeyman but a spiritual dread that creeps in from every direction.

22-year-old Belgian sprinter Marie (Eline Kuppens) is in training for the European Championships when she meets a car salesman and recreational archer named Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts). Going out on a date, they return to his apartment on the left bank of the Scheldt River in Antwerp and make impassioned love on the floor. Tearing the cartilage in her knee during a run, Marie moves in with Bobby for some peace and quiet while she recuperates. Her new neighbor Veerle (Sara De Bosschere) notifies Marie that the apartment’s previous tenant Hella Govaerts (Ruth Becquart) mysteriously disappeared. When an envelope arrives for the missing woman with information about the black mud the building was built on, Marie telephones Hella’s boyfriend Dirk (Tom De Wispelaere), who instructs Marie to throw the package away.

During a visit from Marie’s mother (Sien Eggers), Dirk arrives to share research his girlfriend was working on before she disappeared. During The Middle Ages, the left bank was reserved for outcasts: witches, criminal gangs, plague sufferers. The locals believed they lived near a black hole that descended into the underworld. Marie’s mother agrees that she has always felt a negative energy here and urges her daughter to come home. Conducting her own research, Marie discovers a link between a pit in the left bank with the pagan festival of Samhain on All Saint’s Day. As her health deteriorates and her athletic career is jeopardized, Marie confides to Bobby that she wishes she could just start over again. Her mother becomes convinced that an underground stream runs beneath the basement.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 254 users: 46% for Left Bank

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

Kimberly Lindbergs raves about Left Bank on her superlative B-movie blog Cinebeats.

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Beasts and monsters · Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · End of the world · Forensic evidence · Mother/daughter relationship · Murder mystery · Paranoia · Psychoanalysis · Supernatural · Woman in jeopardy

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