Directed by Lucille Hadzihalilovic.
Starring Paul Hilton, Romane Hemelaers, Romola Garai, Alex Lawther. Drama,
UK/France/Belgium, 114 minutes, certificate 15.
Released in the UK in cinemas 10th June by Anti-Worlds,
EARWIG begins with a sequence where young girl Mia sits with a large brace like apparatus attached to her mouth. Large glass bulbs attached to either side of her mouth collect her saliva which is then collected by the impressively named Albert Scellinc and poured into dental moulds and frozen. Albert then places the frozen teeth inside Mia’s mouth. Tasked with doing this and looking after the lonely girl by a mysterious benefactor, it soon becomes apparent that Albert is struggling with his own issues from the past that could go on to affect his work with Mia in the large estate where they live alone.
For those who have seen Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s previous puzzler EVOLUTION, they may think they know what to expect from the French director this time around. However, EARWIG doubles down on her opaque style of storytelling. The surreal imagery of Mia and her teeth made of ice set out the otherworldly nature from the films beginning, giving it a dark, near fairy tale edge but Hadzihalilovic throws in other elements riffing on such conceits as loss, memory and denial that help to create a perplexing piece that refuses to give its audience any answers, instead letting its often-mysterious story rattle around the brains of those who will willingly grapple with it after a single viewing.
While such obfuscation may repel and annoy as many viewers as it will attract it cannot be denied that EARWIG has a rich atmosphere all of its own. Set in an unnamed part of Europe in the early 1950’s it delivers a richly observed post-war world in all of its drab and smoggy glory. Captured in dark, rich shades by cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg the film just about gets by on looks and atmosphere alone. The mystery of who Albert is working for and why seems incidental, especially when the other mysterious aspects of the film come into play; a painting of the manor that seems to flit between characters with elements that appear and disappear, Albert’s past relationship with his now absent wife and Romola Garai’s bartender Celeste who flits around the outskirts of the main narrative soon take up more space on the screen, each one obscuring the other.
A revelation of sorts soon appears but it is one that feels obvious from the beginning. It feels a tad underwhelming when the film seems so determined to keep its cards close to its chest for the rest of the time. Usually in a film of this type the how and the why of such things should not really matter if it works on a thematic level or even one of mood but at times, and admittedly this is only after a single viewing on my part, it seems as if Hadzihalilovic starts randomly throwing various other elements onscreen to see what sticks.
For those who are already fans of the singular director it is a more than worthwhile watch and for those who are willing to adapt to its wavelength and strange rhythms there is much to admire, not least the shimmering and eerie score by Nicolas Becker and Augustin Viard which is produced by Warren Ellis. It may not scratch that itch that seekers of weird fiction crave and enjoy puzzling over but there is enough here to chew on with the memories of it that linger in the mind long afterwards.