Reviews Short Narrative

De Wissel [The Exchange] – 3.5 stars

Director: Marie Lormeau

Writer: Marie Lormeau

Cast: Alexia Fleres

Running time: 9mins

It’s always an honour to see a filmmaker return to Indy Film Library with a new effort. At the same time, it can be a difficult to separate their latest film from their earlier outputs – and at least a little comparison becomes inevitable. I hope what I have to say here manages to do justice to Marie Lormeau’s latest film, without becoming too hung up on the past, at any rate.

Lormeau’s previous entry was Les Yeux Plus Gros que le Ventre; a grizzly and explicit exploration of eating disorders. This time, the writer-director has returned with a stripped back allegory, also taking aim at the self-destructive outcomes of compulsive consumption, but told in an entirely different manner.

Also returning for De Wissel is lead actor Alexia Fleres – who has a tricky job ahead of her, carrying a film in which she acts silently, opposite an inanimate object. But even without words, her central performance is magnetic, exuding a primal fascination that pulls us along for the ride.

The atmospheric, cautionary tale begins with Mileine (Fleres) lugging a fashionably distressed wooden trunk up a flight of stairs, to her apartment. The exact origin of the box is unclear (though in the digital age, the archetypal little shop of horrors has likely been replaced by the cryptic Marktplaats listing as chief purveyor of cursed items), but wherever she got it from, Mileine clearly finds something about the vintage crate irresistibly charming.

Upon arriving in her home, she gently places it down; before opening it up, caressing the crumbling fabric which lines its walls, and seemingly smelling its musty interior though a deep breath. This behaviour may hint at several aspects of her personality and existence, without formally telling us anything. Something about the present dissatisfies her, but in her taught role of modern consumer, she – and many other people – comes to believe the only way to address that is to surround herself with products of the past. But there can never be enough stuff to fill that hole; to address the shortcomings that modern life has by consuming the past.

Like Les Yeux Plus Gros que le Ventre, this leads to the development of a toxic behaviour. To try and re-seize ‘control’ and affect noticeable change on her life, Mileine is prone to consume in ever more extreme ways – in a manner that ultimately consumes her.

The Pratchettian Luggage which Mileine has invited into her house seizes upon this disposition, feeding it until she is least in control of her obsession. Because, as Mileine soon discovers, whenever she shuts a product from her mundane life in the trunk, when she comes to open it again, it will be filled with some exotic treasure. De Wissel (Dutch for The Exchange) suddenly makes sense as a title.

This starts off small, initially with a pineapple plant which is bearing a tiny fruit. When Mileine closes the lid again for just a few seconds, that has developed into a fully ripened fruit. The inside of the box is not working on the same timeline as the rest of the world, when the lid is closed – and in that moment, Mileine perhaps recognises it as presenting a link to the past, or any other time, into which she might escape.

Putting more and more into the chest, she obtains a number of antique trinkets – the last of which is an old wind-up gramophone. But while each ‘gift’ seems grander than the last, none ever sates Mileine’s appetite. As the film builds toward its ominous conclusion, props have to go to Coen Leuven – who alongside cinematography, also supplied music, and sound design – doing some great work in building the atmosphere. Leuven’s moderately quirky score is interspersed with sudden, portentous thumps – as if something is knocking from the other side of God-knows-where – while in the interim he manages the often-under-appreciated feat of building up an ambient silence. The hush seems to almost hum and crackle in the moments where Leuven’s cinematography lingers on something still; seemingly willing it into life.

Sadly, De Wissel doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of the atmosphere it manages to build. It is resolutely built on the idea that less is more – but honestly, it could have done with a little of the excess that was present in Les Yeux Plus Gros que le Ventre. At least in a managed dose.

The climax does not carry the consequence it might. And while there is something to be said for ambiguity being an effective way of delivering an unnerving conclusion, I can’t help but feel that not knowing exactly what happens to Mileine in the end is probably less impactful than some other implication. Perhaps a Nope-style glimpse of the box’s internal workings, to close things out. Digestive horror seems in keeping with the film’s themes of consumption, and consistent with Lormeau’s previous style… And it certainly would have given the post-script a more foreboding feel, with the suggestion that this story might be set to continue with a new owner.

The two films Marie Lormeau has so far presented to Indy Film Library are both fascinating works of indy horror, in their own right. But having seen the very different works separately, it’s hard not to wonder what could be achieved if the two sides of her filmmaking were to achieve synthesis. If the raw, visceral dread of Les Yeux Plus Gros que le Ventre could be tempered with the simple-yet-impactful storytelling of De Wissel, while still touching on aspects of real life, Lormeau’s distinctive brand of horror could develop to emulate the likes of Jordan Peele.

De Wissel will be part of Indy Film Library’s 2022 Halloween Horror Showcase. For more information on the selection, and how you can watch for free, a full announcement can be found here.

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