I was talking with a fellow member of the press the other day on what qualifies as an opening movie for the Fantasia Film Festival. Based on last year’s opening film, The Villainess, my guess is that it would have to be both high-adrenaline and visually stunning. In that sense, this year’s opening film Dans la brume (or Just a Breath Away) was an excellent choice on the programmer’s part. Being a joint creation of filmmakers from France and Quebec was enough reason to draw hundreds of Montrealers for its sold-out North American premiere.
Dans la brume is set in the not-too-distant future, as evidenced by the advanced computer tech used in the beginning. Mathieu (played by Romain Duris) returns home to Paris after a business trip in Canada. Upon arriving, it’s revealed that his preteen daughter Sarah (Fantine Harduin) suffers from Stimberger’s, an autoimmune disease that requires her to be quarantined in an air-filtered glass case. Being trapped in a bubble can be extremely dull, but Sarah breaks the monotony by keeping in contact with her parents using walkie-talkies and corresponding with other kids diagnosed with Stimberger’s over video chat.
In the background, the news warns of an oncoming earthquake that will hit Paris. Within minutes, the ground briefly shakes and knocks out the power. Mathieu goes out to investigate. The streets are in panic, with people running for their lives. Eager to see what they’re running from, Mathieu goes into the main square where a large cloud of thick brown mist is rapidly approaching. Those trapped in the mist immediately fall to the ground, vomiting a white substance. Mathieu bolts back to his apartment to warn his estranged wife Anna (Olga Kurylenko). Leaving their daughter behind in her bubble, they take refuge in the top floor apartment, occupied by old couple. Lucky for them, the mist stops at the third story. Their daughter is protected from the mist, but the filtration system is running on battery power, and its only a matter of hours before it runs out. Worse yet, the mist is slowly rising.
The majority of Paris is engulfed in the toxic mist. Survivors have either escaped to their rooftops or to the hill on Montmartre, where riots soon break out. Mathieu speculates that two-thirds of Paris is dead and there’s no help coming for them. It’s up to him and Anna to find a way to secure their daughter away from the mist. They must scale the rooftops, travel from oxygen tank to oxygen tank and navigate the lawless streets of Paris in search of a solution.
” I will never take breathing comfortably for granted ever again.”
The most nerve-wracking scenes are when characters are forced to hold their breath as they run through the mist. The average human can only hold their breath for roughly one to two minutes, so mere seconds can make all the difference between survival and certain death. I must admit to holding my breath in suspense during these scenes and gasping along with the protagonists. I will never take breathing comfortably for granted ever again. There were other moments when I found myself close to tears, and that’s all thanks to the impressive facial acting ability of the main cast.
I particularly want to applaud the performances of Michel Robin and Anna Gaylor as the elderly couple Lucien and Colette. At first, their senility is used as comic relief, but near the end, I grew rather fond of both of them. They’re willing to help Mathieu and Anna however they can and encourage them to never lose hope.
Visually, Dans la brume is breath-taking (get it?). It’s a chance to observe the beautiful rooftop architecture of Paris, where everything is bright and eerily calm. The attention to detail in the set design within the mist shows a society fallen apart, with bodies and overturned vehicles as far as the eye can see. The sound design alternates from dead silence to panicked breathing to heart-pounding crescendos.
According to Canadian director Daniel Roby, the version of Dans la brume I saw in theaters in Quebec is very different from the version that premiered in France this past Spring. Roby was reportedly frustrated by the intervention of the French producers and was unsatisfied with the original cut. He reworked the film using existing footage to tell the story the way he wanted it to be told. It’s very possible that I saw a different ending from the original, however I was pleased with the how the movie ended, even if some things were left unanswered. The origin of the mist is never explained, but truth be told, the origin is not important. What truly matters in this film is the story of a family struggling to survive from a natural disaster, and it delivers on that front.
Even if you don’t normally watch non-English films, I would highly recommend Dans la brume, that is, if you’re willing to be on the edge of your seat, anxiously holding your breath.
3.5 / 4 eberts
Dans la brume celebrated its North American premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 12th. Gravitas Ventures acquired U.S. rights to the film ahead of the premiere, and has announced plans for a theatrical release in 2019.