“For I have learned all men are brothers
And brothers only love each other,” – Lingua Ignota, Fragrant Is My Many Flower’d Crown
In MEGALOMANIAC, men don’t come out looking good at all. When the most sympathetic man is the serial killer who leaves women’s remains on the side of the road in garbage bags, you know that the filmmaker is really not messing around.
Karim Ouelhaj is the writer, director, and producer of MEGALOMANIAC. Previously, he wrote and directed L’Oeil Silencieux or The Frozen Eye, which is a horror short about a man who, given the opportunity to spy on a woman in the apartment below him, predictably doesn’t do the right thing. Judging by his back catalog of films, he seems to be around 50/50 percent of choosing to make a film that centers on women as the protagonists or films where men are the main character and not in a good way. Ouelhaj seems to be heading in the direction of being a visual stylist who uses hallucinogenic imagery, at least in MEGALOMANIAC, a gently rotting baroque setting that gives the proceedings a bit of a fairy tale feel.
Eline Schumacher gives a grounding performance as Martha, even though she sees a double of herself that berates her for being weak. Martha is the prototypical female victim, as so many of us have been trained to be. We’re taught to not object and not fight back so as not to be hurt worse or killed. This sets up the film’s principal conflict of victims becoming aggressors and finally murderers themselves.
The second half of the totem of victimhood is Benjamin Ramon as Felix. Cold, dispassionate, even while committing hideous acts, Felix’s mind is like an oil spill on the surface of the ocean. It’s a really remarkable performance because, unlike so many actors who claim to be “feeling something underneath but showing nothing”, he actually is. There is a strange inner life to Felix, that Ramon portrays effortlessly, which is both off-putting and weirdly sympathetic. This is perfect for the character and the movie’s main theme because Felix is a victim too.
One of the movie’s themes is how victims become monsters themselves. With the continual weight of being abused or being party to evil, how those victims start to lash out and commit violence and evil acts themselves. The other main theme is about the corrupting evil of the patriarchy, specifically that men will choose to look the other way or allow other men to commit evil acts against women and do nothing either out of cowardice or an unwillingness to rock the boat.
I do have to mention that all of the female actresses who play the victims are amazing. Catherine Jandrain as the Femme cathédrâle does a wonderful job. But all the victims are totally believable when they are screaming in fear and agony. Pierre Nisse (Raw, Let The Corpses Tan) plays a hideous man named Luc and did such a fantastic job that I would really love to punch him in the face.
François Schmitt (When Arabs Danced) is the DOP on this film and has given it that fairytale look with a little bit of haze and some explosions of dark fantasy elements and shots that have the look of a High Renaissance painting. Simon Fransquet (When Arabs Danced) and Gary Moonboots did the score which is very effective with strings, didgeridoo, and breathy voices. The two disciplines are combined in a scene that switches from Felix shirtless in his bed to Felix stalking a woman in a church that is truly gorgeous but is also filled with tension that suddenly switches over again into a very realistic and horrifying third setpiece. Laïos Hendrickx is the production designer and set designer, and has done fine work in finding this rotten and seemingly ancient home where the two main characters live and where Felix takes his victims.
The film really doesn’t spoon-feed it to you and forces you, by not condemning the characters that you would normally expect it to, to think about how you really feel about it. I can say for myself that I find it to be an indictment of the patriarchy. When I asked myself who the titular MEGALOMANIAC really is and while trying to piece together my thoughts and how I feel about the film, I came to the conclusion that the patriarchy is the megalomaniac. The patriarchy, particularly in its most recent work in the United States with the destruction of Roe and the conservative efforts to totally strip women of their bodily autonomy related to their reproductive systems, particularly the idea of forcing women and young girls to bear children of their rapists, which is specifically quite germane to this film, is the patriarchal system at its most megalomaniacal.
Megalomania causes a person to be obsessed with their own personal power. The instances of serial killers murdering or men casually raping women are megalomania because this type of murder and rape are all about control. The patriarchal structure of the United States essentially institutionalizes rape by refusing to prosecute rapists, think of all those untested rape kits sitting and gathering dust in police locker rooms, and now forcing women to bear the children of rapists who know that they will never be punished. It is megalomania on a national scale. It’s something that I have been giving thought to myself. What is the ultimate control? Being able to force people to do what you want them to do and commit crimes against their humanity on them and never be punished for it. That’s why men like Brett Kavanaugh, a rapist himself, and others want so desperately to be able to force women to do what they want. It’s all about their personal control over every woman in the United States. When one woman is raped and forced to bear, it’s like the satisfaction of personal victory or like they got to rape the woman by proxy.
In this, the film also seems to say, it’s not just women who are the victims. We all are the victims. People like Felix, who is clearly capable of caring and nurturing was taught to be a killer. There’s even a moment when I found my sympathy swinging violently towards Felix because of the evil represented by others and I’m sure that wasn’t an accident.
The patriarchy is violence. The patriarchy is megalomania.
MEGALOMANIAC is a thing of beauty that is actually filled with some of the ugliest things in the world. Heavy with the weight of torture and pain and the evils of men, the patriarchy, and the architecture of our world. It is a violent swing of a hammer at that structure that forces you to look the unpleasant facts in the face. A dark baroque vision that questions the true nature of evil and our understanding of it.
MEGALOMANIAC had its world premiere at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
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