Only the Animals Review: Love Means Giving What You Don’t Have

In the frosty depths of winter, the mystery of a woman’s disappearance unfolds against the snowcovered beauty of the Massif Central in France. “Only the Animals,” directed by Dominik Moll (Harry, He’s Here to Help), takes us on a journey through human connection and disconnection, set amidst the simplicity and secrets of a rural town. This five-year-old underrated movie remains strikingly relevant, exploring themes of love, guilt, and fate. I would say, don’t miss any opportunity to revisit or discover this gem.

The premise seems perfect for a classic Fargo-esque thriller, but it turns out to go much deeper than that. Evelyne’s car is discovered abandoned by the roadside, triggering a cascade of events that disrupt the lives of the town’s inhabitants. On the surface, the community appears straightforward: generations of farmers, friendly cops, and the occasional upper-class visitor seeking solitude in their mountain retreats. But beneath this facade there is a web of deceit, lies, and longing for love. The film masterfully reveals how these characters, isolated in their personal lives, yearn for authentic connections yet fear tending to them if / once found.

The opening scene is both peculiar and evocative: a goat strapped to a young man’s back as he rides a scooter through the streets of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. This somewhat bizarre image with the goat’s repeated „screams” hint at the central role animals play in the narrative. Let’s not forget, goats were associated with magical and spiritual powers in ancient belief! As the young man seeks a mysterious “Papa Sanou,” the story shifts to a stormy winter day in France, where we are introduced to an ensemble of exciting characters.

Each character’s perspective is explored in dedicated chapters, delving into their emotional lives and inner worlds. Denis Ménochet’s (As bestas) portrayal of Michel is particularly noteworthy – as pretty much all parts portrayed by Ménochet, ever. Michel, a desperate and isolated farmer, is a character teetering on the brink of madness, his repressed emotions simmering beneath the surface. Ménochet’s subtle and meticulous performance captures the depth of Michel’s torment and longing, mostly without the need for words.

Only the Animals

Source: Apollo

Laure Calami (Á plein temps) shines as Alice, Michel’s wife – she was nominated for a César Award for her performance. Alice seeks connection through an affair with the lonely mountain farmer Joseph, played by Damien Bonnard (Rester vertical). Alice’s attempt to find meaning and love in her otherwise cold life leads her into a complex and ultimately tragic situation. Joseph, grieving the loss of his mother, is portrayed with haunting sensitivity by Bonnard. His character’s descent into mental illness adds a disturbingly dark yet realistic layer to the narrative, illustrating the extremes of disconnection and unprocessed feelings.

Marion, a young Parisian waitress played by Nadia Tereszkiewicz (Les Amandiers), introduces a different, colorful dimension to the story. Her idealistic and lonely nature leads her to fall for Evelyne (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) within a moment, the very woman whose disappearance sets the plot in motion. The cast delivers powerful performances, creating a tapestry of lives marked by longing, deception, and the search for connection. The chapter structure with the central act of murder being a direct homage to Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950).

Dominik Moll, alongside co-writer Gilles Marchand, crafts an atmosphere that is both ominous but oftentimes tender. Their adaptation of Colin Niel’s novel “Seules les bêtes” is a masterclass in storytelling, earning them a César Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Moll’s direction captures the nuances of human relationships, blending thriller, drama, melodrama, mystery, spiritual tale and romance.

“Only the Animals” is a film that does not shy away from asking complex questions about human nature. It goes into the deceit and tricks we play on each other, the mistreatment of those we love, and the fantasy worlds we create to hide and – if unlucky – completely lose ourselves in. The story also reflects on social class and hierarchy, power struggle, and even cybercriminal activity, making it a multifaceted narrative that keeps viewers hooked.

For those willing to go along for the ride, „Only the Animals” offers true emotional depth and challenges viewers to think about their own lives and relationships. It is a story of karma, isolation, and cries for help, wrapped in a suspenseful and ever-shifting genre mix.

You can find “Only the Animals” on Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon, Curzon, and more.

~ by Dora Endre ~