ÉCOUTE LES TEMPS is a moody French drama with supernatural elements. We had a particular interest in the subject because it relates a bit to Fiona’s last feature script, written for the delightful Terry Gross who’s trying to set it up as a low budget production. Both stories deal with supernatural SOUNDS, heard in the home of a dead loved one.
Early in the film there’s a strange black shape visible at the top of frame in a couple of shots. It stays in position as the camera pans, and I realised it’s the matte box, an apparatus on the front of the camera that’s used for attaching filters. It shouldn’t be in shot!
“The DVD must be showing too much of the image — this is stuff that was supposed to be masked out,” I said. Dogwoof Pictures, who released the film, should have taken more care. “If this keeps up, there’ll be some boom mics in shot too,” and sure enough, a little later:
Check the “shaggy dog” microphone baffler hovering above the guy’s head, top centre. But I thought THIS was going a bit far:
Not really, of course, that last one is deliberate, since our protag, Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) is a sound recordist investigating her mother’s murder in a cottage that seems to have somehow recorded the events that transpired within: her microphone picks up audio flashbacks from different periods depending where in space she positions it. A rather fascinating idea, akin to Nigel Kneale’s TV play The Stone Tape, which develops very slowly from a methodical, low-key treatment. Our heroine takes to marking out her flat with lengths of twine, stretched through the time-space like an LSD-fuelled spider’s web, or like the elaborate defense mechanism constructed by the hero of Cronenberg’s SPIDER.
The purpose of Charlotte’s web is to pinpoint the exact point in space that stores the sounds of the murder being committed.
I lightly liked this — a reasonably standard Hollywood structure based on a really smart idea, and treated in a gradual, unfussed, very French manner. Hyping stuff up would have hurt it, and rendered it plastic and overfamiliar like the worst aspects of THE ORPHANAGE. What first-time writer/director Alanté Kavaïté loses in moment-by-moment drama, she gains in conviction, and a pace and tone that feel unusual when applied to this kind of material. Although her soundtrack throbs with constant reverberant atmospheres, the film reminded me a tiny bit of Jacques Rivette’s very quiet ghost story L’HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIENNE, which appropriately contains the ghost of a microphone boom.
I shall explain. Early on, Julienne picks up his cat and lies down. The cat sees something overhead — an offscreen mic, is my guess — and its attention is rivetted, if you’ll excuse the pun bollocks. Julienne asks the cat if it can hear somebody moving about upstairs. There’s nobody upstairs, of course — or nobody of this world.