Austin Film Festival 2015: ‘The Lion’s Path’ super-creepy, but rewarding

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The following was written by Wes Eichenwald, special to the American-Statesman

“Super-creepy and insular, but ultimately rewarding if you’re willing to stick it out” could be a Twitter-ready capsule review of this brief (78 minutes) French Canadian effort. Alex (Frédéric Lemay), an aimless young college dropout, travels with his new girlfriend Jade to an isolated farmhouse where she lives with six other equally young and aimless people with no visible means of support, a professor named Gabriel (Sébastien Delorme) who’s vaguely into Nietzsche, and Gabriel’s young and very blonde wife, Martine (Katrine Duhaime). Needing to find a place where he belongs, or thinks he could, Alex decides to stick around, over Gabriel’s initial objections.

Gabriel is soon revealed to be a therapist/guru/budding cult leader whose stated mission is to run a “laboratory of truth” in which everyone is expected to participate in group and individual “sessions” filled with head games and other-parts-of-the-body games designed to push everyone’s buttons and boundaries (the audience included). Alex’s buttons get pushed especially strongly. Outwardly laid back, the place is a 1970s-style commune from hell.

“The Lion’s Path” resembles a filmed play in scope and structure; at least the picturesque outdoor scenes provide welcome relief from the indoor psychodrama (though some outdoor psychodrama also goes on). Although its first half is full of pretentious dialogue recalling everyone’s worst stereotypes of what French art films are supposed to be like, and certain scenes veer between creepy and tedious so much that vertigo is induced, the ending redeems the lengthy buildup and Alex’s not-so-excellent adventure is satisfyingly rounded out and tied up with a neat bow.

As Alex, Lemay resembles a francophone Michael J. Fox with absolutely no sense of humor, but within the film’s context, he’s a good casting choice. As Gabriel, Delorme looks like he’s only a few years older than his “students,” but brings an appropriately sinister-yet-impenetrable charisma to the role.

In French, with English subtitles.

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