Mothers' Instinct

Mothers' Instinct

Originally titled Duelles, Olivier Masset-Depasse’s film follows two mothers into a web of guilt, paranoia and mutual fear in an idyllic Belgian suburb. Unnerving performances give weight to this slick, stylish psychological thriller.

Alice and Céline live in two halves of a large detached house with parallel gardens. This nostalgic picture of the sixties, replete with lacquered furniture, statue-niches halfway up the stairs is, of course, a delicately balanced illusion shielding the characters from real life. This protection is ripped aside when Maxime, Céline’s only child, plunges to his death from an open window, unattended to by his mother and reacted to too slowly by Alice. Théo, Alice’s only child, remains close to the mother, crawling through the hedge to whisper with her and greedily accepting the gifts and treats she lavishes on him. As Céline invades her matriarchal territory, Alice swings between immobilising self-accusation and dead certainty that her best friend is bent on a ghoulish revenge.

The film adroitly conceals its hand until the third act. The truth is skilfully occluded by the male supporting characters. Alice’s husband in particular is certain of his partner’s febrility and exudes a sort of deadening rationality, gaslighting Alice, undermining her intuition and thereby, possibly, her ability to protect her son.

Hichame Alaouie ‘s beautiful, sheeny cinematography lets the characters swim through their fish-bowl homes looking perfectly at ease but always on guard. Frédéric Vercheval’s orchestral score recalls 60’s thrillers but less convincingly, even at times sounding a bit Howard Shore. The real pleasure of this film comes from the two main leads and how they play off each other; Veerle Baeten’s searching, wet-eyed sympathy against Anna Coesen’s intense, self-restraint (of grief or vengeance) is a ticklish pleasure watch.

Verdict:

Pitch perfect paste-jewellery pastiche

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