LFF 2019 Film Review: Don’t Look Down (Haut Perchés) ★★★1/2

Five complete strangers sit down for a meal in an apartment in Paris. Each start the evening in a different emotional space; one is physically sick, others withdrawn, others conversational. Over the course of the evening they talk about love, life, sexual fantasies and discover the ways in which they are the same and the ways in which they are completely different. They laugh, dance, play games and gradually discuss the one thing they have in common: the same manipulative ex-lover… who may be locked up in the next room.

Never leaving the confines of one small apartment, writer/directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau give us a theatrical story that poses lot of questions. Who are these people? What is love? What is desire? And why do we all have different definitions for them both?

Don’t Look Down reminded me of the 1995 indie The Last Supper (the dinner setting, the dark secret that connects all the diners). But Don’t Look Down is more static affair, resting firmly on the shoulders of the five actors who each take control of the narrative.

As the conversation weaves it becomes clear their ex-lover was a different man to each of them, crafting a unique emotional torture for them all. Ultimately, they never really knew him.

Each actor brings a different energy to the equation. It’s great seeing Geoffrey Couët (so hilarious in The Shiny Shrimps) given more meaty material to play with here. As each actor (the cast is rounded out with Simon Frenay, Francois Nambot, Lawrence Valin and Manika Auxire) takes centre stage, the emotional shifts make up for the lack of different locations. Cinematographer Manuel Marnier does wonders in making the small apartment feel large, finding new angles and lighting to make sure your eyes are never bored.

The film resists the urge to descend into obvious cliché (as Francois Nambot’s Louis says, the evening won’t end in either a bloodbath or an orgy).

Don’t Look Down is dark and sexy but some will find it frustrating. It’s a wordy affair, dissecting emotions and motivations, and leaving so many things unsaid. As the sun rises on this group exorcism you’re left wondering whether or not love itself is the perverse manipulator they have all been the victim of.

By Chad Armstrong

Don’t Look Down had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.

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