Life is a precious thing. A thing that we sometimes wander aimlessly through, whether it’s due to not knowing what we want, losing something that kept us grounded, or trying to reconnect with why we should continue to be here. However, we can’t meander or else we will be filled with regret over what we’ve lost. In Mathieu Turi’s MEANDER, we are taken through Lisa’s journey as she awakens to find herself trapped in a series of tubes. We are kept on our toes and feel the tension she does as she must survive and the film itself doesn’t miss a beat to make sure our hearts are racing with hers until it reaches its conclusion.
MEANDER is directed and written by Mathieu Turi. The film stars Gaia Weiss (“La Révolution“) and Peter Franzén (Heart of a Lion). In MEANDER, we meet Lisa (Gaia Weiss) laying in the middle of the road, seemingly hoping to have someone run over her. However, at the last moment, she relents before accepting a car ride from an unknown man (Peter Franzén). Things escalate and then we cut to black. Upon awakening, Lisa wakes up in a tube dressed in a wetsuit. On her arm is strapped a bracelet with a countdown. We watch her painstakingly try to figure out her situation but, it doesn’t take long for her to figure out the significance of the countdown and how she came to be trapped in these tubes.
The film doesn’t start you immediately in the action. No, it lures you into feeling a sense of foreboding right off the bat with audio clips before launching us into some beautifully cool-toned aerial shots. In the background, you can hear what sounds like ‘Through The Valley’ play, hinting at plenty. There are dangers and death ahead and this reveals itself when we meet our protagonist Lisa for the first time, laying in the road. The grief of her daughter’s death has stolen all life from her. After choosing to hop into the car, we know something has to happen. And then it does. It is only when Lisa wakes up that the tone shifts and we soon learn what tension truly feels like.
By the time Lisa wakes up in a cold dimly lit room with a glowing bracelet, we are just as disoriented as she is. But it’s not long before the situation changes. This is where Mathieu’s direction and writing both come together to create a film that honest-to-God made me curse a lot in a good way. There is no room for pause in MEANDER. Because, much like the film’s name, meandering means our protagonist is doomed to get caught if she doesn’t overcome each new obstacle that this giant human-size rat labyrinth throws at her. The stakes are high and the execution of each new bump in the road makes it so that neither Lisa nor the audience can rest. While the objective is not entirely clear, one thing is for certain. She has to keep moving and she has to succeed, even if it means our hearts will be beating up a storm in the process.
The production and lighting design are beautiful, cold, and confining. The lack of lighting outside of what we see in the cracks in the walls provides a feeling of claustrophobia. Using the light on the bracelet to illuminate Weiss’s face and use a focal point in scenes was really well-executed. The usage of tight frames as well greatly enhances that feeling of claustrophobia, especially in scenes where our protagonist is literally squeezed in narrow positions. These shots allow us to easily follow her and put ourselves in her shoes. All of this is to say that from the cinematography from Alain Duplantier to the production design by Thierry Jaulin and more, it all came together to create a well-executed feeling of confinement.
While all of these elements were highly successful, MEANDER would not have fully succeeded without Gaia Weiss’s powerful performance as Lisa. With her almost singlehandedly being onscreen throughout the length of the movie, there’s so much to love especially given the high physicality required for this particular role. We feel what Lisa is going through in part due to the seamless transition Weiss makes through her expressions. Those tight shots on her face combined with the roller coaster of emotions Lisa goes through as she’s trying to find her way out of this hellish sterile labyrinth easily makes it difficult to pull our eyes away from the screen. And, when Lisa starts to see her dead daughter, your heart breaks as you watch Weiss’s face filter through those emotions of a mother that just wants to be reunited with her child.
Overall, MEANDER is a cluster of a high-stakes tension-filled time. Due in part to Gaia Weiss’s incredible performance as well as everything the story throws at her character, Lisa, you can’t help but want the best for her as she puts herself through literal hell to survive. The execution of the pacing, as well as each obstacle along Lisa’s path, is well done. As my own introduction to the work of Mathieu Turi, I have to say this is a hell of a good introduction. This film will have you on the edge of your seat by the time Lisa wakes up to the time we reach the film’s conclusion. You’ll honestly not want to miss this film. And get ready to curse at the screen. A lot.
MEANDER had its North American premiere at NFF: Masquerade.
There is still time to check out this film among others at this year’s NFF: Masquerade. Passes for NFF: Masquerade are on sale now at NightmaresFest.com, where a complete list of this year’s program is also available. NFF: Masquerade runs from October 21st through the 25th.