Alice Winocour’s new directorial production and her second feature film, Disorder starts with a premise that has been regularly addressed by cinema since the Vietnam war, famously in Taxi Driver and Coming Home: a former soldier is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and his place in civil society.
The armed conflict in question is the Syrian Civil War (2011-). Appearing in the background in TV and Internet news, the war is both distant, twice removed – geographically, as well as approached by proxy – and uncomfortably close. Vincent, the protagonist played by Matthias Schoenaerts, is treating his current situation as a temporary leave and, although deemed medically unfit (aforementioned PTSD), expects to be in the Middle East again soon. His environment is entirely formed of fellow soldiers and veterans, with the most laconic introduction of absent family: when entering his home, Vincent asks, ‘Mother?’ to the empty flat.
Further connection to Syria is established when the husband of Diane Kruger’s heroine is discovered to be an arms dealer. Within the narrative, the wife then takes the role of a civilian in need of protection, alongside her young son.
The film’s first part places the viewer inside Vincent’s head, in a position where simplest actions (taking a bus home) require supreme effort and concentration. Suffering from auditory hallucinations and a partial loss of hearing, Vincent provides the audience with the ultimate perspective of an unreliable narrator: neither we nor the protagonist can be sure we understand the events correctly, or ascribe them the right level of significance. Every experience is distorted, every move requires exertion since there are palpable gaps between reality and Vincent’s frame of reference.
The second and, arguably, main part of the film (Aristotelian epitasis and catastrophe) goes to illustrate Kurt Cobain’s ‘Just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you’. (An earlier form of that same saying is attributed to Joseph Heller, but I like Cobain’s un-grammar better.) Constant evaluation of potential attack risks proves to be not just sensible, but the only approach ensuring survival. While ordinary human contact is either trying or restrained, and a passing-by jogger in black is a trigger, Vincent has no faults as a soldier. It is precisely the efficiency and machine-like ruthlessness he exhibits – yes, smashing the intruder’s head over the glass table that many times was an overkill (too soon) – that, ultimately, dissolve the hesitantly growing sympathy between Schoenaerts’s character and Kruger’s Jessie (cf. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in Drive).
(While on that topic, associations with Drive are strongly suggested by the British version of the film poster for Disorder. Compare below to this gallery of images. Another similarity is in the extended use of music which is not just present as background noise or a mood enhancement tool, but opens a direct passage into the protagonist’s head. Mike Lévy, better known as Gesaffelstein, did a great job with the soundtrack.)
If read as a hallucination or a dream, the ending is a sharp and lonely thing. If the film is to be seen as an extended war metaphor, then the finale is its logical conclusion: the longing for human contact is unsatisfied, repressed to the point where it becomes the unattainable focus. There is no purpose to Vincent unless there is somebody to protect.
The original French title of the film is Maryland, after the villa owned by the wealthy family who hire Vincent as a bodyguard. A white classical-looking house on a green lawn, Maryland is reminiscent of another building, with the name emphasising its connection to America and, by association, big politics. A minister running for the post of French President is in attendance, and political scandals are brewing in softly-lit rooms with high ceilings. The matters of reputation, responsibility and debt are addressed but never resolved, as physical suffering remains reserved for those not in power. How is that for an extended war metaphor?
Matthias Schoenaerts is exceptionally convincing in his role of ‘the strong, silent type’, without compromising the complexity of his character. The relationship between Jessie and Vincent is hierarchically one-sided, and so his admiration of her physical shape is left for the camera and otherwise remains unacknowledged. The ending is all the more bitter-sweet for it.
Filmography: Disorder (Maryland), directed by Alice Winocour. Belgium-France, 2015. (IMDb)
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