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Film Review: Le Necrophile (2004)

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A story of a very ordinary man who just happens to be necrophile. (He is also like to eat cockroaches.) Problems begins when his pretty orphan cousin came to live with him…


Here’s something funny I’ve noticed about necrophilia – it seems that at least half of the movies dealing with this taboo subject are warm, light hearted, and have an overall happy tone. Maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising, seeing as how, underneath it all, most of these stories deal with love and relationships; it’s just that they’re not the love and relationships typically found in a Hollywood romantic comedy. But it just seems that for every Deadgirl or Lucker the Necrophagous, we get a movie like Kissed or Nekromantik. The French short film, Le Necrophile, manages to find itself in the warm and fuzzy category, despite its otherwise dark and creepy atmosphere and subject material.

Writer and director Philippe Barassat (see also Indesirables and Transit) tells the story of a mysterious loner, M. Montaldo (played by Freddy Bournane, who channels Peter Lorre by way of Dellamorte Dellamore’s Gnaghi for this character), whose way of living is thrown into chaos when the death of a relative puts him in charge of his young niece (credited as “la petite fille,” meaning the little girl, and played by Ilona Szabo). Given this basic premise, one might expect Le Necrophile to be a Steve Guttenberg or Paul Riser vehicle. But M. Montaldo’s routine involves eating insects with his lizard-like tongue and digging up corpses and then bringing them home; can you really picture any of the two dads or the three men with a baby doing any of this? Okay, maybe Greg Evigan.

The story ends up dealing with Montaldo’s relationship with the girl. He obviously has no idea how to be a parent, and at first is forced into the role after being threatened by the authorities. But the little girl turns out to be less trouble than he expected, even with the neighbor boy constantly flirting with her. In fact, she shows unconditional love to her uncle she had otherwise never before met, ignoring his quirks and his strange look and his lack of knowledge and skill. The conflict of the film comes when Montaldo tries to balance this new parenting life with his old ways, and the boy next door, feeling spurned by the little girl, begins paying close attention to his activities. He sees him throw some large garbage bags into the incinerator, and decides he has to alert the authorities at once.

The story of Le Necrophile is a fairly even mixture of creepy and heart-warming, but it’s the style of the movie that really stands out. It would seem that Barassat has an affinity for the silent film, for that is how this film is set up, at least visually. There is a score throughout, as well as sound effects. There is even some dialogue to be heard, but it is unconventionally done – when a main character speaks, we get silent film-style intertitle cards with their words in French (while the film has no English subtitles, a little patience and a language translating app works wonders for the non-French speaking audience). In place of the characters’ voices, we have a variety of strange sounds; when the little girl speaks, we hear a flute; when the neighbor boy speaks, at times he sounds like an adult from a Peanuts cartoon put through autotune, while other times he sounds like a saxophone. Other voices include a sped-up voice, a fast reversed voice, incoherent grunts and grumbles, and even a bit of a Donald Duck sound.

Le Necrophile is a film to be experienced. The story is nice, with a tinge of sappiness, but once the main conflict is resolved, the last few minutes dip into very uncomfortable territory before swooping back into the very bizarre. The film is only about 37 minutes long, but the filmmaker does well in establishing the mood, the setting, and the characters, and then telling the story he set out to tell – there are some movies three times as long that aren’t able to accomplish this. There is a nice, absurd edge to the film, a lot of heart (and surprising little blood, given the circumstances), and it’s all surrounded by the constant reminder that our anti-hero, Montaldo, prefers the company of corpses. Le Necrophile is a film to track down, for fans of French cinema as well as those who like a bit of unexpected weirdness in their dramas.

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