Carré Blanc, the feature film debut for director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti, was a refreshing glimpse into the sci-fi dystopian genre. Both hauntingly beautiful and masterfully directed, Carré Blanc is a stunning example of how, in an age of high tech blockbusters and special effects, a simple yet meticulously crafted sci fi narrative can be incredibly powerful and beautiful without a multi-million dollar budget.
The film follows the life of Phillipe, a young man to whom we are introduced as his mother kills herself moments after bestowing ominous advice about how to survive in a hostile world. From here, Phillipe is taken into the cold apathetic unspecified future in which the story occurs, where everyone is controlled by a mysterious set of rules enforced by a mercurial and undefined group of people. We are taken deep into his life, and soon we discover that this boy has been transformed into one of this world’s strictest enforcers. Because of events in his past, and his loyalties in the future, Phillipe finds himself at a crossroads where he must choose between maintaining the status quo, or throwing everything away for the love of his life.
One of the film’s major strong points is that it is extremely hands-off. The first twenty minutes of Carré Blanc have no dialogue whatsoever, but through subtle visual cues and beautiful photography, Léonetti allows us to discover the horrific nature of this world through our own means. Without a spoon-fed explanation, the viewer finds themselves in a more tangible world; characters exhibit terrifying malice and cruelty upon one another with the same ease that they drive themselves to work. We are shown, yet never told, that the dead are being recycled as meat that is sold and consumed.
Yet what is more horrifying than this discovery is the realization that everyone knows and no one cares. Instead of having a dissociated character to yell out or announce the audience’s feelings of revulsion towards this cannibalism, Léonetti simply shows the inhabitants of this world eating as if nothing were wrong. This calmness and normalcy is more terrifying than any verbal explanation could possibly be. The announcement and acceptance that something could be wrong brings a conscience, a sort of redemption back into the film, that at some point something could, and hopefully will change. But The disregard, and blatant ignoring of something we find so revealing emphasises the fragility of morals, and how society can unravel itself into unknown paths.
Another strength of Carré Blanc is that the film isn’t about the future. It isn’t about the collapse of society, the oppression, or even what has happened to the world. This is where many modern sci-fi movies fall short. They take the tropes and expectations of our dystopian view of the future, and try their hardest to explain how it happened. Instead, Carré Blanc is about Philippe and his wife, and all the extenuating circumstances surrounding their lives only serve to enrich the meaning and weight behind all of their actions. In the end, Carré Blanc is a story about humanity and love.
All the details Léonetti took the time to add enriched and deepened the plot. It’s not often that I genuinely care about a character’s motivation and feel invested in the end result of their actions. But Carré Blanc did just that, and for that reason this film definitely wins Cannes.