Reviewed by Serena Whitney
Starring Isild Le Besco, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Jerome Kircher
Directed by Benoit Jacquot
While it was expected that most reviewers would be lining up to see higher profile films at the Toronto International Film Festival, Benoit Jacquot’s Deep in the Woods was able to attract enough inquisitive viewers to the screening to generate future buzz for other eager filmgoers. Regrettably, the screening managed to horrify and repulse three quarters of the theatre, who walked out of the film, which was not totally unexpected for Deep in the Woods is a film not for the easily squeamish, easily offended and especially over-privileged.
In 1865 an inarticulate drifter in dire need of a manicure and a toothbrush named Timothée (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) sets his sights on a troubled young woman named Josephine (Ishid Le Besco), a woman far out of the dirty vagabond’s league. When Timothée pretends to be a deaf mute to Josephine’s father, a local doctor to the needy, he is let into their home, and after performing a set of disturbing magic tricks, he manages to put Josephine under a spell and viciously rapes her and then leaves the home. After being brutally violated, Josephine finds herself compelled to follow her attacker deep in the woods by an uncontrollable force only to be further humiliated, violated and abused by Timothée. Although as days go by, Josephine is able to show signs of having free will, which begs the question: Is Josephine really under Timothée’s spell?
Benoit Jacquot’s Deep in the Woods is a film that goes out of its way to upset its audience through its unrepentant sexual ferocity and exploitative depiction of the Stockholm Syndrome. The film manages to subvert viewers’ expectations by showing what seem to be countless rape scenes, and even those filmgoers who have survived human centipedes and an unspeakable Serbian film this year may feel queasy after watching a menstruating woman being forced to receive oral sex onscreen.
Deep in the Woods is downright offensive and to most will be considered to be unsightly; however, like Josephine, this reviewer felt compelled to endure the feelings of disgust Timothée’s actions invoked because behind the film’s ugliness and mind-boggling premise lies a twisted yet bold statement on the culture-bound view of rape and the severe negative connotations associated with female rape victims to this very day.
Viewers are challenged to contemplate if Josephine is a willing participant as most of the sex scenes take place in tranquil, yet romantic settings deep in the forest, and because she initially attracts the drifter’s attention to her by swimming naked in a lake, many are left to question if she “asked for it.” Although because Timothée makes Josephine his own personal marionette/sex doll, one should not even question if she asked to get raped because at the end of the day, a man drugged her up with magic and let his barbaric traits take over any common sense he had all because of a slight provocation. Plain and simple.
Despite the fact that Deep in the Woods is full of repetitively awful scene transitions, a few too many rape scenes and underwritten sub-plots, the movie also manages to sustain an optical illusion of either being a feminist or chauvinist film, and by the end it’s truly up to the eye of the beholder to decide whether Deep in the Woods is one or the other. Some people will probably not understand it. A few more will downright hate it. Having said that, it is still a worthwhile experience to see a film with challenging performances despite its possible malevolent intentions against its viewers.
3 out of 5
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