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Pierre Creton’s film featured in both John Waters’ top ten and Sight and Sound’s top 50, so it should have been made for me – but there’s no accounting for taste. All I can say is that it certainly gives you the feeling that director/co-writer Creton knew exactly what he was doing when he made it. He may even have achieved his goal.

This eccentric horticultural tale, heavy on narration by various voices, focusses mainly on young Pierre-Joseph, a gardener with an erotic predilection for older men. In the film’s second most startling scene, he gets out of bed and returns to it about 30 years older (and played by the director). That was one hell of a piss, I found myself thinking, not unsympathetically.

The film’s first most startling moment (and possibly the most random bit of CGI in the whole of cinema) involves the titular prince, an Indian boy/man who is much discussed but never seen until the end, wherein he is middle-aged and, in this particular scene, sports a multitude of writhing penises where usually there would be just the one.

For the most part, however, the film is rather static. I wanted to admire it’s sheer perversity, but couldn’t get over my boredom and bemusement, at least until a scene where the characters (some dead by this stage) sit around a table making animal noises. This was atmospheric and intriguing, seeming to offer me a ‘way in’ to the film, even as it ended. But I’m inclined to blame myself rather than Creton.


And I suppose a film about plants should be static, just as The Animal Kingdom, another French film, proves to be fast-moving – enough to get it in the BFI London Film Festival’s Thrill strand. In contrast with A Prince, this I really enjoyed while it was on; slight doubts emerged later.

In Thomas Cailley’s film France (at the very least) is struck by a disease that transforms people into animals, or at least takes them part of the way down that road. The afflicted, popularly known as ‘critters’, are kept doped up in secure facilities, and include the wife of Francois (Roman Duris) and the mother of Emile (Samuel Kircher); I mean, they are the same person – though not necessarily, anymore, a person.

Young Emile also appears to be turning into a wolf, and this transformation, along with the search for his mother, who goes missing along with a number of other ‘critters’ after the vehicle transferring them to a new facility crashes, becomes the thrust of the film, which, as well as calling all kinds of genre fare to mind (from I Was A Teenage Werewolf to Nightbreed), also takes more serious themes about society’s treatment of outsiders and our relationship with the environment in its effortless stride.

In the Q&A someone pointed out that the female characters are given rather short shrift – both policewoman Julia (Adele Exarchopoulos) and autistic schoolgirl Nina (Billie Blain) form relationships with Francois and Emile respectively that would seem to be heading somewhere, but their ‘arcs’ are unceremoniously dropped in favour of Emile’s quest for freedom. It’s as if his freedom means not only an escape from society and the human form, but from the influence of women as well – as if it really is the animal kingdom.

I never noticed this while watching the film, but now can’t shake off the idea that this is something the director overlooked – he says that he shot additional scenes with Blain, but that they didn’t work. I’m left now with this slightly disagreeable notion of a sort of unintended passive-aggressive anti-feminism. But had this not arisen in the Q&A, I might not even have noticed.


One of the male characters in The Animal Kingdom is transforming into a bird and naturally wishes to go the whole hog (as it were) and fly – eventually, he manages it.

In the more slightly more realistic (or maybe magical-realistic) scenario of Tunisian film Behind The Mountains the hero also wishes he could fly, way up to the sky, but he can’t. Or can he?

Just out of prison, Rafik (Majd Mastora) kidnaps his son Yassine (Walid Bouchhioua) with the intention of demonstrating his new-found skill out in the countryside, but after flinging himself from a height knocks himself out; gaining, however, a disciple in the form of a shepherd (Samer Bisharat), who lets him recover in his hut.

The shepherd believes that he has seen Rafik suspended in air for a significant period of time. Christian symbolism (Rafik is later wounded in the side) coexists with an evolutionary perspective, as Rafik explains himself to his son as being like the first person to walk on two legs.

The other interpretation, of course, is that he is just plain bonkers – his attempt at a home invasion with Yassine and the shepherd in tow, which dominates the second part of the film, adds fuel to this theory.

Eventually, we do see him fly, but it might just be a slightly slower way of falling. Director Mohammed Ben Attia might have handled the film’s shifts in tone more artfully but he maintains a sense of ambiguity. Rafik is reminiscent of those Fathers4Justice protestors who used to scale tall structures in superhero costumes in order to prove their fitness to look after their children – favouring, as films often do, the bold gesture over the boring details of domesticity. This weighs the audience’s wish to see a man fly against our understanding that it is, surely, sheer escapism, if not actual madness.

Again, as with The Animal Kingdom, it is, I note, men who are making the escape attempt.


Well maybe they have a point. That mother love can also have its dangerous side is the takeout from Laura Moss’s film, which was presented in the London Film Festival brochure as a variation on Frankenstein but was more reminiscent of one of those old horror films in which Boris Karloff, say, tries to keep his dead love alive by removing some gland or other from numerous unwilling donors.

The mad scientist figure here is pathologist Rose (Marin Ireland) a socially awkward, probably autistic pathologist who has begun to take her work home with her, notably the corpse of a young girl, Lila (A. J. Lister) – who she has, by the by, managed to reanimate.

Lila’s mother, Celie (Judy Reyes), a nurse, has mixed feelings about this, but after her initial outrage at the removal of her daughter’s body gives way to the understanding that Lila really is back, soon moves into Rose’s flat as they both devote themselves to caring for the little girl – who is, it’s fair to say, a long way from being her old self.

Unfortunately Lila’s continued existence requires an ingredient which can only be obtained from certain expectant mothers – semi-legitimately at first, but after a time necessitating a certain amount of manipulation of the truth and exploitation of a patient; and then finally something more drastic.

Well, we know where this is heading but it is done with unusual attention to detail and instead of just piling up the bodies, derives its horror from the gradual transition from health professional into killer. The act of taking a life carries real weight here, which is not, of course, always the case in horror films. It helps that both of the central characters are sympathetic – Reyes and Ireland make an amusing double act.

But other possibilities remain unexplored, including the suggestion that the child may have returned as some sort of monster and the notion that Rose, having brought Lila back to life, is now her ‘real’ mother. There is also the revelation that Rose experimented on her the body of her own mother, before having her first success with a pig named after her.

The main thrust of the film continues to be Cerie’s (understandable) fixation on keeping Lila alive. In a way, it’s the opposite of Mary Shelley’s message – if Frankenstein was built on the idea that a man appropriating a woman’s ability to create life is against God and nature, here ‘natural’ instincts reveal their own dark underside.

Much as I admired this I couldn’t quite shake off a feeling that, like Lila, who never leaves the apartment or becomes a viable person again, it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s as if, in focussing so much on this obsessive maternal love it has denied itself detours, flourishes and reversals that might have proved interesting.

There is a sense that the life is gradually being sucked out of it, almost without you noticing, even as the film depicts the reverse – but maybe that was just my own escapist tendencies kicking in.