GREGOR CAMERON reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: living with the dead.

WHAT IF... the rapture worked backwards?

As an alternate to the shock and blood spatter genre of zombie Robin Campillo has written and directed a fascinating slow boiler of a horror movie that plays with some seriously philosophical questions. Right from the beginning we are treated to a classic zombie shot of them walking along the road from the cemetery. But here’s the difference: they appear to be immaculate. So what has happened? Cleverly, Campillo stays away from the material we can not know and thus opens up the film to both believers and others. He does however bring a number of interesting references into play.

Horror does not really have to come as “ride” films might suggest but includes the slow burn, the realisation of both the not knowing and also of just how powerless we really are– it is not a scary space, it is an uncomfortable space. Campillo presents us with an conceit that could be a sort of anti-“rapture”, a moment when all those who have died in the last ten years return, immaculate, unchanged from the moment of their death. And in this lies the rub as they have not changed and, in fact, are incapable of change – it implies nothingness in between, a challenge to all of us. In this space we must confront the questions about what to do with them, where to house them and the capper – what do you do with the ones that people don’t want back.

By staying with this world Campillo allows us only to engage with the problems here and gradually it is revealed that the dead are as trapped as those forced to take care of them until finally the people of the world are literally forced to “take care of them”.

In another homage to a zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, in which George Romero claims to have offered a commentary on Vietnam, Campillo’s Les Revenants (They Came Back) seems to imply a discourse on France’s modern problem with immigration. There is a scene where the dead having unsuccessfully integrated into the bottom tier of labour employment seek to escape their fate. Two of their number hide behind a tree as we see some army trucks go by. As they begin to cross the road they are joined by many more who have been hiding behind all the other trees. This scene references current coverage of Mexicans trying to cross over into the United States. And some of the things these undead are required to do when it appears that they are unable to think with either sophistication or origination which might buy into some of the more unfortunate stereotypes of immigrant life. Again the questions of what to do with them and where to put them arise.

The cast all perform with considerable gusto but in terms of letting us experience this story Jonathan Zaccaï as Mathieu and Géraldine Pailhas as Rachel really illuminate through their use of the spaces and silence of a relationship. His quiet looks sometimes call up Robson Green but whether this serves either actor is up to the reader – I see an enormous amount in the way both of them use stillness. Pailhas, in contention with herself, allows us to consider what it would be like if some grandparents, a lover, a sibling or a child suddenly required of us more than we have to give, whether through grief or guilt from the state of the relationship when they left.

This film featured in the London film Festival but doesn’t seem to have made the cut in our own. Without a distributor it hasn’t been seen over here. And here lies the true value of Film Societies in their ability to work with national embassies in order to screen, on film, gems like this one that we may not otherwise be exposed to.