I was a little mislead by the synopsis for La Dune; it sounded like a slightly unorthodox police proceedural. Which, in the narrowest possible sense it is, but that’s like handing someone a copy of Dune the novel and telling them it’s got something to do with desert ecology.
The film opened with me wondering if my ear for French had gone completely skew-wiff. I couldn’t understand a word. Imagine my relief when I realised the film had opened in Israel and the characters were speaking in Hebrew. A man is speaking with his girlfriend; the film comes to a question - he replies “I can’t.” We cut to a hospital and watch as their relationship terminated as surely as the pregnancy. After watching Hanoch (Lior Ashkenazi) pick up the remains of his life, we cut to Reuven (Niels Arestrup), a police officer with the missing persons, tracking down a writer (Mathieu Amalric) who has been missing for three weeks. He speaks to the author, low-key, gentle, persuading. They agree to go to lunch to discuss the writer’s disappearence. He throws himself out the window.
Devastated, the police officer returns to his home in Paris and Paolo (Guy Marchand), his lover of 40 years. He wants to quit, but his boss fobs him off with leave, a break before they are due to visit Paolo’s family in Italy, to celebrate his sister’s birthday.
It’s difficult to see how these two narrative threads can come together, but they do: Hanoch turns up in Paris, shadowing Reuven; then he cycles into the countryside and turns up, unconcious, on a dune. He refuses to speak. Reuven is persuaded to investigate Hanoch; I will not say any more about the plot, but it unfolds slowly, gently, naturalistically. It reaches a conclusion that could have been played as joyous, but in the film’s more realistic milieu is instead tinged with the sadness and loss it would have in reality.
I enjoyed La Dune. Or perhaps not enjoyed; some of the emotional landscape is too difficult to be simply pleasurable. But it is a slow, gentle, sad film, well-realised. The cinamatography is vivid, wonderfully capturing the locations; the script assumes an intelligence in the viewer, rarely, if ever, feeling the need to fill in blanks we ought to be able to infer the answers for ourselves. The dialogue and acting is superb - when Paolo quarrels with Reuven over the phone, it is with the words of partners of forty years; when Paolo discovers why Reuven is delayed in Landes, his abrupt shift to offer support is equally drawn from reality. The ability to use body language and expression to convey the story is well above the norm, and perfectly suited, in the case of Hanoch and Reuven, to men dealing with scars and secrets that have left them unable to express themselves through words.
La Dune is a beatiful, sad, wonderful film. See it.