Nice is renowned around the world for the elegance of its coast line and the glamorous hotels and restaurants which gloriously overflow with a clientele of irreproachable financial sway. A seemingly bizarre setting then for a harrowingly amplified literal voyage into the spiralling level of madness loneliness and unrequited love can lead to.
Fifty year old police officer Michel Matarasso has become disenfranchised with his career, feeling tired, warn down and emotionally numb. A life resigned to the gritty underbelly of this seemingly utopian paradise has left him void of any friendships and stuck within a relationship which amounts to little more than a few brief flurries of excitement in an otherwise mundane life of abject solitude. It’s all culminated in a man who’s decided to go rogue, distancing himself from the moral obligations of his profession and very much becoming the mould of a more cerebral ‘bad lieutenant’. In an attempt to remedy his situation he abuses his position of power to gain a sick note for two weeks of much needed rest and relaxation.
However, this illegally sourced vacation coincides with both the death of a beautiful young woman and the introduction of romance into Michel life. Curiously, it appears that it’s the same woman at the focal point of both these narrative revelations making what transpires a rollercoaster ride into the mentally unstable world of a man psychologically shackled between the realms of dream and reality and as the line which separates these two worlds begins to fade into the distance it becomes equally difficult to decipher where this nightmarish journey of self discovery began and when, if it ever, it will stop.
On the Shore is director Julien Donada’s first feature film with his career beforehand having been primarily filled with documentary making. It shows in his evocative style that, like its central protagonist, sits uncomfortably between the boarders of fact and fiction. This strikingly unconventional approach and the atmospheric tension it creates is only emphasised by the gratuitous over use of extreme, over the shoulder close ups which, seem to literally thrust us into Michel’s point of view and simultaneously relate to his state of utter confusion.
Having taken our front row seat at the window of this unstable man’s quest for love it become unclear as to what belief is driving Michel (played by the equally attractive as he is repellent Daniel Duval). This increasingly confusing story at times seems like Michel is determined to solve the murder of Sandra (the beautiful dead woman he’s become infatuated with), perhaps not believing it was suicide. At other moments it appears he’s just collecting memories to fuel these flights of the imagination which are all of a sudden breathing life and a little bit of fantasy into this man’s previously exacerbating state of depression. The strength of his conviction into her existence whilst simultaneously playing the grieving friend is a difficult pill to swallow but like the best surreal pieces of psychologically perplexing films, it creates a story some will no doubt want to revisit in an attempt to piece together this existential puzzle of the story.
All the signs are here to pin point Donada as a director who could become capable of great things, however, On the Shore lacks enough energy and tension to truly submerse you into this world of fantasy imbued within reality. The film’s more involving scenes could perhaps have benefited from a little more suspense; after all there’s nothing wrong with occasionally succumbing to mainstream sensibilities to drive your story forward. The runtime is also perhaps a little too lengthy (although this may just be a reflection on the slow pace) however, this criticism is only meant constructively as there is enough here within this dark romance to not only entertain but excite, primarily at the prospect of more of the same - just only with a little more constraint and fine tuning.