The Plague is on Board – 9 Fingers (London Film Festival Review)

Rating:

Dark grayscale, thick vignettes, side lighting, sharpened shadow lines and more gobos than you can shake a French stick at; yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves 2017 film noir with a side of avant-garde. But before you go running for the nearest Pixar outing, it’s worth giving FJ Ossang’s 9 Fingers more than a quick two fingers. This is the man who brought us the fabulously titled Treasure of Bitch Island lest we forget.

9 Fingers starts with the mysterious Magloire (a perfectly cast Paul Hamy) running from an ID check at a train station. As he flees, he comes across a dying man stranded on the beach who bequeaths Magloire a parcel before telling him to run. As he swiftly exits across a wall of rain straight out of the Tate Modern, he is suddenly confronted by a pair of gunmen, who knock him out and take him to their clandestine country hideout. Magloire has the parcel removed from his person before being roundly press-ganged into joining the self-proclaimed Revolutionaries’ team.

The movie is calved quite neatly in half. The opening section shows the gang’s secretive and abortive mission, delicately fraught with excellent tension and pace. The 2017 silver Mercedes and intermittent post-electro soundtrack jar brilliantly with the 1940’s visuals. The latter half details a long sea voyage to a mystical drifting archipelago named Nowhereland. This is where Ossang shows his preferred hand, obfuscating the narrative in favour of measured psychological impact. The tension between the gang members begins to grow, sides formed and paranoia quickly develops. As the gang and crew start to show symptoms of a disease possibly related to the ship’s cargo, madness starts to take hold and the revolution begins to develop biblical dimension in the heads of the crew.

There are times when the dialogue gets bogged down with the predictable existentialism, region and predetermination but Ossang just about manages to dip his toe into the pretentious pond without drowning. The cast do a fine job, particularly Hamy and Lisa Hartman as the seductive Evil-Lyn clone Drella but all characters feel pushed aside as the nightmarish madness drives through the narrative with dizzying ease.

9 Fingers is a fine, slow-burning, addictive nightmare from the ever-challenging, genre-defying Ossang.

Dir: F.J. Ossang

Scr: F.J. Ossang

Cast: Paul Hamy, Damien Bonnard, Pascal Greggory, Lisa Hartman, Elvire, Diogo Doria

Prd: Sébastien Haguenauer, Bruce Satarenko, Luís Urbano

DOP: Simon Roca

Music: Julien Cloquet

Country: France, Portugal

Year: 2017

Run Time: 99 minutes