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Case Number 17439: Small Claims Court

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Mortal Transfer

Cinema Libre // 2001 // 122 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 8th, 2009

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has put in for a mortal transfer to Cleveland.

The Charge

"Do I leave Helen for prison or an insane asylum?"

The Case

Recently, I've reviewed a couple of nice, heartwarming movies from French director Jean-Jacques Beineix, who has recently turned his attention from fiction to documentaries such as Locked In Syndrome. Mortal Transfer is not one of those movies.

Dr. Michel Durand (Jean-Hughes Anglade, John Adams), a Paris psychoanalyst, has an unusual dilemma on his hands. Patient Olga Kubler (Hélène de Fougerolles, Fanfan la Tulipe) has been telling him about how much she enjoys her husband Max's rough lovemaking. As he listens to her, Michel dozes off, dreaming that Max is there in the office, slapping Olga and choking her. One day, though, he wakes up from that dream to find a nightmare: Olga is on the couch, dead. So what does Michel do? He calls his policeman friend, but doesn't follow through. Instead, he hides Olga's body under his couch, continuing to see patients as he does so. He also talks to his psychoanalyst, since the nightmare is becoming his nightmare. Did he kill Olga, or was someone in his office? Michel must unravel the mystery before he unravels.

Mortal Transfer is a creepy movie. Even without Michel discussing necrophilia with a drugged-out DJ he meets in a cemetery while trying to dump the body, it would be a creepy movie. Even without Hélène (Valentina Sauca, Any Way the Wind Blows), the artist Michel loves, drawing flip books of penises and leaving rude messages about sex with Bill Clinton and other notables on her answering machine, it would still be a creepy movie.

At times, Beineix gets humor from it; the scene in which Michel slides Olga's body around on the icy street is hilarious, and you're sure to laugh, albeit nervously, as patients talk about their sexual issues while Michel is kicking Olga's flopping hand back under the couch. Anglade is great as Michel, the unraveling psychoanalyst, his expressions giving away his mounting fear even as he calmly tells his cover stories. He feels like a small man caught in a larger and larger problem. The fact that de Fougerolles as Olga doesn't look very dead as she's being moved around actually adds to that humor of nervous tension.

What Beineix is mainly aiming for, though, is a discomforting, insane, surreal atmosphere, reminiscent of David Lynch. There are a few heavy handed attempts at weirdness, like a man on a swing and some nonsense about a toy giraffe. However, Beineix hits the mark more often than not, so expect to feel disoriented and nervous if you watch. The movie descends along with Michel into a growing madness as he tries to cope with the situation through "a kind of subconscious strategy of errors." What's most maddening, though, is that no one quite grasps the situation. Michel's girlfriend and police buddy know something's wrong but come up with the conclusion that he's covering up a fling, and Michel hauls a corpse across the street, even after Olga's car has been towed from in front of his office, with no one paying any attention. All this sets the stage, of course, for an abrupt return to normalcy at the end that serves as catharsis, with all questions answered and everything back to normal, or perhaps better than normal.

Speaking of transfers, I had no problems with the DVD. The images may be weird, but they come across well.

Mortal Transfer isn't rated, but glimpses of nudity and a violent sexuality would make it an R.

An interview between Jean-Jacques Beineix and Tim Rhys is included with the movie. Of course, Beineix calls his movie "too outrageous" for mainstream tastes. I wouldn't disagree, but it's probably best the director let other people point that out. There's also a photo gallery with movie stills and production shots.

I found Mortal Transfer creepy, but I'll have to admit that Beineix handled it effectively, even if the gags stand out more than the general tone of weirdness. Mortal Transfer might be worth your while if you're intrigued and you catch it while you're in the right mood. For me, it probably helped that I've gotten used to Beineix's style from his more conventional movie dramas.

The Verdict

C'est plus bizarre, mais pas coupable.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Cinema Libre
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• English
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Foreign
• Mystery

Distinguishing Marks

• Interview
• Photo Gallery


• IMDb

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