By Natalie Whalen, Staff Writer
French filmmaker Lucile Hadžihalilović’s newest film “Evolution” premiered at the New Directors/New Films Festival, which recently wrapped up its 45th year in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The film, which was also featured at the Toronto Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, BFI London Film Festival, San Sebastian Film Festival, and Dublin Film Festival, follows her 2004 film “Innocence.” Both screenings of the film on March 23rd and 24th were followed with a Q&A from the director, who, despite her age, appeared humbled to have been featured.
“Evolution” is an evocative thriller centering on a seemingly dystopic island inhabited by women and their sons—or “sons,” depending on your interpretation of the film. The film explores themes similar to that of Hadžihalilović’s first film, emphasizing the fears children have regarding the “mysterious adult world.”
The film is visually stunning, while simultaneously communicating the dark mood of a horror film. Even in dealing with fantastic subject matter, Hadžihalilović is minimal in her directing style, using steady shots to build intensity.
In terms of narrative, the plotline is vague. The film leaves much open to interpretation and verges on under-explanation. Much of the world that Hadžihalilović creates is puzzling; without giving too much away, we are led to wonder at the biological possibility of the events that take place. Is magic or science the guiding principle of this universe? At times, it is difficult to accept or comprehend the choices that both the characters in the film, and Hadžihalilović herself, make.
The inherent eroticism of the film, while necessary to thematic development, is also potentially somewhat disconcerting for some audiences. In exploring some of this pubescent fear that the main character Nicholas has as he and the other boys of the island are plagued by a mysterious illness, much of the subject matter traces back to his own sexual development.
One of the most captivating aspects of the film is Hadžihalilović’s depiction of the sea, which opens and closes the film. The film begins underwater, where Nicholas is first encountered. He is seen questioning his mother after he finds what he believes to be the dead body of a similarly-aged little boy.
“I wanted to create a balance between freedom and oxygen,” remarked Hadžihalilović in the Q&A after the March 23rd screening. In “Evolution,” the dry, austere land is contrasted with the abstract of the water and weeds beneath the sea’s surface.
Hadžihalilović claims to have been inspired by Italian horror movies, whose influence is clear in this beautifully directed film. Hadžihalilović grapples the line between beautiful and scary, attractive and horrible, in order to convey certain ambivalence between the competing aspects, which she remarks to be, “as life is.”
Regardless of personal sentiments, “Evolution” is inarguably a progressive film, which takes its experimentation very seriously. Fans of horror, thrillers, and beautifully captured cinema alike will be sure to take something away from this film. Its bizarre nature makes it not for everyone, yet maintains its merits as an art-house success.
“Evolution” is set for U.S. theatrical release in May 2016.