Exploring the world through global cinema

Ignorance Is Bliss

A slightly shorter entry this time, due to my having to spend much of the day battling spyware – or more accurately, letting the computer battle spyware while I sat there being irritated. This week, a Belgian thriller going by the name of:

Loft

(2008) Directed by Erik Van Looy; Written by Bart de Pauw

(You can find a trailer at the bottom of last week’s post.)

“Don’t worry, I’m your friend – your best friend. I’ll keep quiet. I always keep quiet.”

Accused: Filip Peeters as Vincent Stevens.

Late one evening in a quiet corner of a Brussels suburb, a body suddenly plummets from the top of a residential tower block onto the roof of a parked car below. Earlier that same day, five friends sharing a loft apartment for their extramarital conquests discover the bloodstained body of a woman sprawled across the bed where the affairs take place. Is one of them responsible or are they being framed by a jealous lover?

So begins Loft, an exploration into the uglier side of sex and the psyche. It is as much a commentary on male attitudes to infidelity as it is a murder mystery, where the joys of conquest reign over reason and consideration for anything other than animal lust. While the championed phrase ‘It didn’t mean anything’ is employed as the clichéd band aid over the wound of trust, the five protagonists who cling to it are not equal in their desires for inconstancy. When architect Vincent Stevens hands his four friends the keys to the sky parlor through which they may indulge themselves in secret, it is here that the unraveling truly begins and we discover whose declarations end at posturing bravado and who truly believes that adultery is an honest acceptance of male desires.

Revelation: a murder forces dark secrets into the open for the close-knit group of friends.

All of which give Loft its light and shade. With the story told out of sequence, we flit back and forth across the lives of the five men, the choices they made leading to their current predicament, and the way in which they deluded themselves so as to justify their actions. The placing of the murder inquiry in the pre-credits teaser makes it clear that the slaves of lustful extracurricular activity cannot escape their fate, but the real intrigue lies in precisely how the drama plays out and whether or not the man sitting in the interrogation room really deserves to be there. The out-of-sequence intersections spanning several months add layers of deceit – both within the group, not as tightly-knit as they try to believe, and to all who come within their orbit. The grotesque parody of civilization held together by expensive suits and champagne cannot disguise the descent into carnal imprisonment.

Indeed, if grotesquerie is ultimately the point of the film, then Loft succeeds with flying colours, for I found myself struggling to sympathise, let alone care about any of the poor fools and the fact that their clandestine infidelity had at last come to haunt them. I certainly can’t fault a single character on the grounds that he is depicted unrealistically, for the overconfident Lotharios before the camera will easily remind any viewer of the expert seducers we’ve all met at some point whose undisputed skill at drawing women to them like moths to a flame is matched only by their deep vainglorious neglect of empathy. If redemption is on the cards, Loft is not concerned with winning the audience over to their side and in the end, this is my biggest problem with it – not a desire for some tired, shoehorned play for morality before the end credits as Hollywood typically insists so as to keep the audience’s fantasy of human virtue intact, but simply the fact that in human drama, a cast of unlikable characters is the true act of murder for the audience, their empathy dead and buried for the duration of a film that demands two hours of attention.

“If grotesquerie is ultimately the point of the film, then Loft succeeds with flying colours.”

Bruno Vanden Broucke plays Luc Seynaeve, a man whose face speaks volumes...but of what?

Doubtless, there are many fans of the modern crime thriller who revel in the self-destructive anti-hero, seeing him or her as the truly honest figure driven to be nothing more than earnestly human in an uncompromising world. The fun lies in watching their raw emotion explode onto the screen in a celebration of chaos and drama. Perhaps Loft has simply failed to bring out the best of this premise. I admit to not being a devotee of crime fiction and my Tarantino is rusty.

There is still the mystery element, however, and in that arena, Loft is compelling. As we peel the layers from our five anti-heroes, so the plot shifts and twists as expertly as the men themselves wriggle through their double-lives. Revelation follows revelation, and the final sequence is almost amusingly that last desperate attempt to redeem those still battling their consciences. Remorse sails in like a charging cavalry whose alarm clocks failed to sound on time. It feels tacked on as a last desperate twist, yet given what carnal descent into hell writer Bart de Pauw has presented beforehand, better to let the film remain in that melancholy storm of Dante’s second circle where it can at least stand with its own self-prescribed dignity.

The amorality of 'Loft' is doubtlessly the point, though it makes sympathising with any of the characters tremendously difficult.

Of director Erik Van Looy, I would praise his creation of a suitably dark and forebodingly-lit story. The cold light of day has no place here and Looy confines his characters to the shadowy realms in which they belong, and yet one of the stand-out scenes takes place at a daytime wedding where the men’s egos are in full flight. He also chooses a fine cast, from the confident presence of Filip Peeters as suave seducer Vincent Stevens to Bruno Vanden Broucke as the nervous Luc Seynaeve – Broucke creating within him a man whose face tells far more than his lips will. Wolfram de Marco’s tense soundtrack reminded me in places of Hans Zimmer’s score for The Ring, punctuated by earnest strings and softened by echoing piano, never overused but doing much to set the tone.

This then is Loft, a shadowy discourse on what happens when one succumbs to their desires and the way in which one lie compounds another. In such a tale all bright lights are diffuse leaving only shades of grey, misery clawing desperately at excuses and no real victors. In amidst this gallery of the fallen stands the film itself, aiming high in terms of plot twist and drama, but sinking slowly through the ground for failing to engage the viewer on the most fundamental level: empathy.

Next Time

For me at least, Barbadian cinema has long proved to be elusive…and still is. Going beyond the film projector however, two programs have presented themselves and cobbled together, form the very dubious entry that will appear next week. One looks at the Barbados Landship Association (produced by that very organization), while the other sheds light on the Redlegs, the island’s poorest and most maligned inhabitants. Laying down the train tracks at the last minute Wallace & Gromit-style when World On Film returns.

 

A title full of meaning, but I bet you'll never guess what they really get up to.

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