“Moka,” director and co-writer Frédéric Mermoud’s psychological thriller is a study of unbearable loss (the loss of a child) and life’s not unexpected wounds–the loss of youth, love, relationships. Shot on the Franco-Swiss border in the lovely, tidy towns of Évian and Lausanne, Mermound says, “I found it interesting to (stage) the confrontation between two women in a setting that would oppose two cities. Right in the middle, Lake Geneva is like an amphitheater…looking quite calm but with unpredictable swirls that bring out strangeness and anxiety.”
Diane (Emmanuelle Devos, riveting), who was on the phone with her beloved teenage son Luc, a talented violinist, when he was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver, is undone by grief. Frustrated by the slow pace of the police investigation, she learns from a private investigator that the car was either a BMW or a Mercedes, with double headlights, and the color of coffee and milk. He adds that a blonde woman was driving and gives Diane a list of four cars, registered to nearby addresses. She sets off from Lausanne, obsessed with revenge and a need to restore her equilibrium.
In Évian, Diane (who Mermoud often shoots between two large expanses of wall–she seems both adrift and trapped), locates a 1972 Mercedes 450 SL with poorly repaired damage around the right front headlights. It’s for sale. She poses as a buyer, speaking to the owner, Michel (David Clavel). And she begins a careful circling of his blonde partner, Marlène (Natalie Baye, also fascinating), a beautician, who owns a salon. As a kind of rapport develops between the women, Diane realizes that vengeance is more complicated than she had assumed.
“Moka” will open on Wednesday, June 14 at Film Forum for a two-week run. The CinéSalon series at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), “Enigmatic Emmanuelle Devos,” continues on Tuesdays through July 25.