AFI FEST Review: Dystopic Darkness of ‘Carre Blanc’ Consumes and Confounds

By  · Published on November 6th, 2011

Filmmaker Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s feature film debut plucks from the cinematic dystopic visions that have preceded his black-as-night view of the future, but the filmmaker has deftly crafted a bold and tense new take on a world ruined and remade. Carre Blanc is a brooding, moody, and atmospheric exercise – frequently silent and nearly dark, with action playing out across crisp and clean sets that are void of any kind of personal decoration or demarcation. While individuals are essential to the film’s future society, individuality is not prized and has been slowly beaten out of all citizens. Living and working space all appear to be crafted from the same up-scale IKEA mold, functionality as the only aim. It is no surprise that the citizens who populate Carre Blanc’s bleak future society are, at best, shiftless and, at worst, crushingly depressed.

It’s never quite clear what happened to the world of Carre Blanc before the film opens, or why its inhabitants are doomed to such a bleak existence, but Leonetti does not shy from making the film play as an unwavering damnation of consumption. While comparisons to something like Soylent Green seem inevitable, Leonetti does not hide the truth of the product that his titular company is turning out, revealing within the film’s first five minutes that Carre Blanc the product is, indeed, people. But whether the majority of the film’s inhabitants know, or even care about, the truth of what they’re blindly using for sustenance forms the central plot (and central horror) of the film.

Leonetti focuses his film on Philippe, played as a devastated young orphan by Majid Hives and later as a fully integrated adult-Carre-Blanc-cog as Sami Bouajila. While Philippe’s personal life (and his broken relationship with his wife Marie, played by Julie Gayet) proves important to the film and its aims later in the production, it is Philippe’s inscrutable work that serves as the film’s most interesting and confounding element. Philippe’s type of business is not clear, but we do know that he is in charge of training new employees, running them through the wringer thanks to a number of ostensibly mental exercises that often have very physical consequences.

But, physically speaking, the population of Carre Blanc has more than enough weighing on their weakened shoulders. Citizens are encouraged to procreate via constant reminders broadcast by blaring loudspeakers, thanks to a calm voice that both suggests that couples “make a baby” that evening and profusely congratulates women who do end up giving birth. But the birth rate remains so low that, as the film moves through time, other broadcasts, ones that ask young girls if they’d like to be artificially inseminated, signal the lowering of the acceptable age for those inseminations. But the society of Carre Blanc doesn’t just have a problem making new people, but holding on to the ones they do have. Suicide is so commonplace and widespread in the film’s society that giant nets are strung up along the bottom of high-rises to catch falling bodies. But for those that do succeed in snuffing themselves out, Carre Blanc the company has an answer, one that once again ensures that all of the world’s very limited resources are used to the best of their ability.

Even in the orderly and ordered society of Carre Blanc, its citizens are much more liable to behave like wild animals, either from some primal urge buried in them, or thanks to piped-in animal calls meant to inspire a desire for family in its listeners. Those perceived as “weak” or “different” are targeted by others, particularly at the hands of a roving pack of Philippe’s underlings who don’t smart at bringing bloody violence to any situation. And while the constant threat of violence renders Carre Blanc an undoubtedly tense experience, it’s also what allows even an inkling of possible freedom to peek out from between the well-sealed cracks.

Yet Carre Blanc’s dark worldview is tempered by an even blacker sense of humor, with those same broadcasts that call for constant coitus also periodically weighing in with bitingly timed reminders – a worker will escape out of their place of business by way of a backdoor and the announcer will ask that all workers leave via marked exits, or a body will plunge from a building and that same voice will gently remind that the elevators are a better way to go down. Beneath the crisply presented call for order and the sense that every move is being monitored, Leonetti’s film keeps its subversive humor and a firm grasp on its own essential individuality.

The Upside: An assured feature debut, Leonetti knows how to weave stories and mysteries against a dark and richly textured background.

The Downside: The film may be too slow-moving for audiences, and some viewers will likely turn away from it just before it gets to the meat of its subject.

On the Side: Don’t make plans to eat burgers after watching Carre Blanc. For probably a few days.