Film Review: ‘Cette maison’4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Director: Miryam Charles
Cast: Eve Duranceau, Nadine Jean, Schelby Jean-Baptiste
Language: Haitian, French
Runtime: 75 minutes
Written by Goh Kai En
Cette maison is an understated, meditative drama-fantasy that, while an impressive stylistic feat in many technical aspects, suffers at its very core from a messy story that leaves much to be desired.
Miryam Charles’ directorial debut presents the death of Tessa (Schelby Jean-Baptiste), as an autopsy reveals her cause of death to be murder rather than suicide. We follow her grief-stricken mother, Valeska (Florence Blain Mbaye), as she navigates the next ten years of her life after the loss of her daughter.
Shot on 16mm film, Cette maison adopts a unique “home-video” style, adding depth to the themes of home and identity. Combined with more filmic movie-making techniques, the film boasts a unique style that looks interesting and appealing. The film also utilises colour beautifully. Many scenes carry warm tones that emphasise a homely feeling, and scenes involving flowers play with their colour and relative objects on camera in a way that makes the flora stand out.
Cette maison’s cinematography is beautiful, but perhaps its most striking aspect is how the film plays with sound. As we are taken through this exploration of identity, the soundscape adds tremendous depth to the viewing experience. Ambient noises like the sounds of waves and wind augment the slow, contemplative nature of the film. The use of sound effects to bridge moments in the film that transcend space and time is an imaginative feat that makes for a fluid watch. The music enhances the liminality of the film, lending it an ethereal atmosphere.
Unfortunately, for all its beauty, Cette maison tells a muddled story — a by-product of the unique storytelling style it adopts. Choosing to take the viewer on a journey that flits through space and time, the chronological order of events is mixed up, something that proves to be hard to follow throughout the film. It also doesn’t help that the ghost of Tessa appears often.
Her appearance adds emotional depth to some scenes, namely the autopsy scene in which she mourns her own loss. In other cases, Tessa isn’t distinct from the living. Her presence adds further confusion to the events, blurring the lines of reality and imagination. While using her as a storytelling tool is intriguing and creative, its otherwise murky execution is cause for confusion. Overall, the plot is hard to digest, and first-time viewers may not understand the full story, lost in its style.
However, the film isn’t without its strong moments. In my opinion, the best of Cette maison’s technical and storytelling splendour is in its autopsy scene. With nothing but a sheeted body and characters in a liminal room, it is here that the film layers strong messages of grief with its other themes. Mbaye’s performance shines, with a bone-chilling scream to close off the newfound autopsical discovery that eventually cuts to silence. A mother’s loss has never rung louder in a silent scene.
With its fresh look and immersive soundscaping, Cette maison is a beautifully crafted filmic experience. It’s a worthwhile watch for its atmosphere, especially in a theatre. With a runtime of 75 minutes, it’s also at the right length for its techniques to be awe-inspiring rather than tiring. Save for its flaws, the film is still recognisably personal, and that alone is meaningful. For a deep exploration of identity, Cette maison will definitely speak to many.
This article is produced as part of the Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme, organised by *SCAPE and The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.
About the Writer
Goh Kai En is a student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic studying Film, Sound and Video. An avid fan of local and animated films (especially the works of Studio Ghibli), he loves all forms of creative writing, and aspires to be a screenwriter someday.