Everyone is looking for love… but not everyone knows what it is.
Set in the France’s frigid Causse Mejean, Only the Animals begins with the unsettling image of an abandoned car on a snowy road. A woman has disappeared and no one seems to have seen her or knows her. (Well, admits to knowing her anyways.) Telling individual stories that interact with one another, the film examines the lives and loves of its characters, including a French farmer’s wife (Laure Calamy), her naïve spouse (Denis Menochet), an unscrupulous African con-man (Guy Roger “Bibisse” N’drin), an excitable ingénue (Juliet Doucet) and more. As the local police gendarme attempts to piece together the truth, each of their lives threatens to unravel as a result of their own deceit and duplicities.
Directed and co-written by Gilles Marchand, Only the Animals is an unsettling but intriguing mystery that plays out through multiple perspectives and timelines. Taking a page from Run Lola Run, Animals is a murderous puzzle that requires patience as it is assembled. With each segment, Marchand unravels his intricate web of relationships, creating questions while he fills in gaps to the truth along the way. Set in the dead of winter, this is a world of dryness and death. Using (mostly) pale colour schemes and lighting, Marchand wants the viewer to feel the bone-chilling effects of his environments. In a place where the sun fails to shine, so too does its characters emotionally wilt from their isolation and personal struggles. (Somewhat ironically, as the film shifts scenes to Africa, he manages to create the opposite effect, exemplifying heat and desperation amongst his characters.)
In Animals, relationships are as frozen as the surrounding area. In this town, everyone has secrets and each character lives by their own moral code. From adultery to corruption to straight up murder, everyone in Animalsis willing to bend the rules if it benefits them. (In fact, true to the title, it really seems that the animals themselves are the only ones who ‘speak’ with any sense of conscience in this world.)
What’s most interesting about Animals though is that each character seems to be lacking in the area of love. From adultery to abandonment, these particular people are not merely lonely. Instead, they struggle to even understand what love means. Perhaps the best example of this come when Drin’s boss tells him that ‘love is offering what you don’t have’. Although that certainly sounds like an interesting truth in some ways, it is used it the context of manipulation as opposed to genuine affection. In this way, love becomes the appearance of intimacy, instead of something real and life-giving.
However, Animals then embeds this idea within the motivations of its characters. Whereas Amandine believes obsession equates with love, Evelyne keeps everyone at bay. Meanwhile, Michel’s heart aches for an internet illusion despite having a woman he can care for living in the same home. Unrequited love, emotional manipulation, or simply just inexperience all play out within the lives of each character, leading to self-centred chaos when it comes to relationships. Though their drive may be to find love, everyone here is really simply trying to fill the voids that exist within their own soul.
Whereas love is said to be about ‘offering what you don’t have’, what’s really missing is making sure that your heart has something to offer.
Dark and brooding, Only the Animals is more than content to sit in the shadows with its twisted tales of sexuality and obsession. As his characters scratch and claw for their own emotional survival, Marchand weaves a narrative of murder and mystery that understands the darkness that can bubble within the hearts of humanity. But be cautious when you hear characters express their love for one another. Due to their self-serving natures, their inability to truly offer love sometimes causes them to act more like animals.
Only the Animals debuts in theatres in Toronto and Vancouver on Friday, November 5th, 2021.