by Kayla McCulloch on Nov 13, 2020

Throughout the 29th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF), the writers at the Lens will be spotlighting their favorite narrative and documentary films on this year's festival slate. Our critics will discuss can't-miss festival highlights, foreign gems that have already made an international splash, and smaller cinematic treasures that might have otherwise been overlooked – just in time for you to snap up your virtual tickets.

Time is a strange thing. So is grief. When the two work in tandem, they create a fugue that covers the mind in a murky haze. In the blink of an eye, a month has passed. Then a year. Then a decade. With each new milestone, the grieving cycle threatens to start anew, the pain and isolation of those first days returning. Then the anger and the sadness of the subsequent weeks. Then the reckoning in the months that followed. Eventually, acceptance arrives. There’s no rhyme or reason to the order of things, there just ... is. Time is. Grief is. They exist, and they lift each other up to bring others down. Just ask Marie (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey and Anouk Grinberg), a dancer who’s been mourning her father longer than she actually knew him.

Like a windup music box with a twirling ballerina inside, young Marie (Bergès-Frinsbey) is the dancer at the center of first-time writer-director Charlotte Dauphin’s The Other. Her choreographed movements and elegant poses are far more composed than her mind, which is still reeling from the loss of her father (Jean-Louis Martinelli) in a tragic accident not long before the start of the film. She drifts from place to place, relying on muscle memory to take her through the motions while her thoughts are elsewhere. Right before his death, Marie’s father had scheduled her a session with a photographer, Paul (James Thiérrée). His call — and his mention of her father’s name — snaps her out of her fog for a brief moment, and she keeps the appointment to honor one of her father’s final wishes. The two spend the afternoon together at Paul’s place, sharing drinks and stories and poems with one another and inadvertently providing a soothing respite for Marie’s bruised heart.

Many years later, Marie (Grinberg) can recall that visit to Paul’s studio and the solace of his company like it just happened yesterday. This probably has something to do with the fact that they are now decades into a romantic relationship with one another. Her relationship with Paul seems intrinsically linked with memories of her father, and she’s haunted by her younger self and her unresolved feelings of despair over the accident. Familiar objects, locations, people: Her father’s memory lives on in them all. The two Maries twist and swirl through one another’s psyches like oil and water, never quite finding a way to move forward without the intrusion of those raw feelings tied to the accident. The grief is a hurdle that can’t be overcome with dance, music, love, or anything else. It is all-consuming, and — no matter how hard she tries — Marie can’t seem to shake it for very long.

Unlike many films that attempt to tackle loss in a meaningful way, Dauphin’s take finds a novel technique to make the familiar territory hit extremely hard: an unshakable, inexorable, relentless exploration of one woman’s sorrow that leaves no room for things like plot or formula. It’s a risky approach — especially for a newcomer — but it pays off, leaving a long-lasting impression on the viewer. Dauphin thrusts filmgoers into the front lines of Marie’s struggle, hooking them with arresting visuals and lyrical performances, and keeping them invested for the duration of the film’s brief but blunt 77 minutes. Although the film might sound like a tough sit, Dauphin’s palliative direction and her actors’ reserved performances result in a pain that aches rather than stabs. Ultimately, this uncompromising portrait of grief’s grip and the dangers of allowing it to go unresolved makes for one of the most memorable debuts in recent years.

Virtual tickets for The Other are available to MO and IL viewers from Nov. 5 - 22 and can be purchased here.