Without question, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s second feature EVOLUTION has been for me the most challenging film of the Helsinki International Film Festival. In turns stunningly beautiful and thematically enigmatic, EVOLUTION is a film that demands complete viewer attention and discipline.
The plot, in as much as I understood it and as far as I want to reveal it, concerns Nicolas (Max Brebant), a young boy who lives in a small village by the sea in an undetermined location that could be one of many places in the Mediterranean, or not. Nicolas lives with a woman who could be his mother, or not. While swimming in the sea one day, Nicolas thinks he sees a dead boy on the seabed with a starfish on his navel. From this encounter begins a series of events that lead Nicolas to at first doubt and then discover the truth of the existence he lives in.
EVOLUTION is a tough film to pin down if you want easy genre definitions. It might be a simple coming of age story were it not for the flirtations with science fiction and horror. Fans of David Lynch and Jonathan Glazer (UNDER THE SKIN) will find plenty to admire here as the film defies simple explanation and affords multiple interpretations. Also, fans of David Cronenberg will appreciate certain body horror elements.
As the title suggests, the concept of ‘evolution’ is very much at play, but in what sense is for the viewer to determine. The astonishing visual style of the film is matched by Hadzihalilovic’s direction in which there isn’t a single camera move for the entire runtime. Of course there is movement within the frame from the characters and natural elements, but once she sets up her shots, the camera remains motionless—not a single tilt, pan, zoom, pedestal or dolly. For me, this produced the sensation of looking down the viewfinder of a microscope and observing some new sort of life form.