Film Review: Etangs Noirs

Timeau De Keyser and Pieter Dumoulin’s Etangs Noirs is an unsettling mystery. The film is engaging, even if it’s not wholly satisfying.

When Jimi receives a parcel mistakenly delivered to him, he attempts to deliver it to the correct recipient. When she is not home to receive it, Jimi becomes obsessed with delivering the package…

From an innocuous-sounding premise, Etangs Noirs becomes quite something else. Writer-directors Timeau De Keyser and Pieter Dumoulin begin with a simple enough proposition; Jimi tries to gain entry to a neighbouring block of flats to give a parcel to the correct recipient. What develops from this is a mystery which keeps viewers guessing.

The filmmakers establish a mystery which shifts as the film progresses. Viewers will initially guess who Jimi is trying to find, and perhaps the contents of the package. This later shifts to why Jimi is obsessed with finding the recipient; after all, it is an everyday matter. Etangs Noirs focuses on the everyday, but does so in a skilled fashion.

The directors have created a film that transitions from the mundane to the unsettling without leaving the realm of the everyday. In Etangs Noirs, normal locations, such as metro stations, become troublesome sites. There is a tension building, with viewers unaware of what Jimi will do when he tracks down Sayenna. This makes for an uneasy watch. 

The use of handheld camera creates a sense of intimacy with Jimi, and is most effective in the scenes which include following. Cédric Luvuezo delivers a decent performance as Jimi. He is suitably ambiguous, keeping viewers guessing as to his motives in certain situations.

Clocking in at an hour and ten minutes, Etangs Noirs does not hang around for long. This is a positive, as it would have been difficult to sustain the tension over a longer period. As the film draws towards its conclusion, tension is ramped up. It unclear exactly how the film will conclude , and the very end feels a bit unsatisfying. Nevertheless, for the most part, the mystery works. Etangs Noirs is an original and an impressive picture.

Etangs Noirs is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.