France, Belgium / 92 minutes / color / TF1, Outsider, To Do Today, VnO, France 3, RTBF, Laurent Brochand, TFM Dir: Harry Cleven Pr: Laurent Brochand Scr: Harry Cleven, Jérôme Salle, Isabelle Coudrier, Yann Le Nivet, Sophie Hiet Story: Harry Cleven Cine: Vincent Mathias Cast: Benoît Magimel, Natacha Regnier, Olivier Gourmet, Hanna Novak, Nathan Lacroix, Benjamin Engelman, David Engelman, Morgan Perez, Fabienne Loriaux.
The happy family Hebert: Claire (Natacha Regnier), Pierre (Nathan Lacroix) and Matyas (Benoît Magimel).
Matyas Hebert (Magimel) lives happily with his heavily pregnant wife Claire (Regnier) and their little son Pierre (Lacroix), and works as a photographer—nothing grand, just portraits of schoolkids and the like. One day he’s horrified to get a letter telling him that his mother, Mme Depierpont-Dussart, has died—horrified because Matyas was reared in an orphanage in the belief that his parents were dead. More startling still, he discovers he has an identical twin brother, Thomas Dussart (Magimel again), who was told at age 6 that Matyas had died in a car accident.
The two brothers (both played by Benoît Magimel, obviously) first meet each other.
Matyas senses from the outset that Thomas is a manipulative creep, and soon this suspicion seems more than amply justified as Thomas starts making some truly inappropriate remarks about Matyas’s sex life, Claire being so late in her labor, and seemingly practically offering his own wife, Elina (Novak), as a stand-in: “She always wants to do it.” Indeed, when Matyas goes by appointment to Thomas’s apartment he finds Thomas absent and only Elina there, naked in the shower; she jumps hornily on Matyas, believing him to be Thomas, but he’s able to explain the truth and dissuade her.
Elina (Hanna Novak) attempts to seduce Matyas (Benoît Magimel).
When he gets home he discovers that, in his absence, Thomas has ingratiated himself with Claire and Pierre. By now he’s convinced of Thomas’s malevolence, and becomes even more so as Thomas insinuates himself progressively further into the Heberts’ family life. Without warning, Thomas drags him into an all-identical-twins cocktail party on the specious grounds that Matyas will find this experience reassuring; of course, Matyas finds it quite the opposite: deeply unsettling. Thomas even offers to attend the birth of the new baby in Matyas’s place; after all, Matyas has a pathological fear of blood . . .
Ever since childhood Matyas (Benjamin Engelman) has suffered from bizarre, hallucinatory nightmares, including one in which a slow, measured, whispered count of ten is given to him by the end of which, if he fails to wake up, he is promised that things will get really bad. Now it seems as if those nightmares are replacing real life, much in the same way that Thomas seems to be attempting to replace Matyas in real life. Worse, every time Matyas meets Elina—whom Thomas beats—she throws herself seductively at him, offering enticements that he finds himself steadily less capable of resisting.
Even in childhood Matyas (Benjamin Engelman) suffered nightmares.
In the final moments of the movie the count-of-ten nightmare is reintroduced to devastating effect. By then we’ve discovered the true story—if indeed it is the true story—of why Matyas was cast off by his parents to the orphanage, and of Elina’s true nature. Probably we should see the sensational final volte-face coming, but this viewer didn’t; when it did arrive, though, it seemed a perfectly natural development of what had gone before rather than a mere contrivance designed to shock.
Although Gourmet’s performance as the two brothers’ father is little more than a painting-by-numbers exercise, the other principals are splendid, Magimel and Regnier especially but even including Lacroix as Matyas’s small son Pierre and the Engelman twins as the infant Thomas and Matyas. Vincent Mathias’s cinematography achieves that easy understated exquisiteness that so many European cinematographers seem to manage so instinctively. Add in a similarly restrained and sophisticated musical soundtrack (done by George Van Dam and Dimitri Coppe) and Cleven’s very sensitive, nuanced direction, and you find yourself with a beautiful, constantly baffling piece . . . despite the fact that really its plot could, differently treated, have served as the basis for a Hammer House of Horror production.
The boys’ father (Olivier Gourmet) makes a final weak, self-serving attempt to set matters right.
The effectiveness of this clever psychological thriller is enhanced yet further by the intelligence of its sound design (done by Frédéric Demolder and Nicolas Provost, with sound engineer Christian Mondheim). Sometimes, as Matyas struggles with his psychological frailties—his increasingly understandable paranoia and his fear of blood—the sound cuts out entirely, yet we’re never in any doubt as to what’s being done or being said.
Trouble won no major awards but a number of lesser awards, arguably far fewer than it deserved. It’s certainly a movie worth serious attention.