Home Video Hovel- Domain, by Sarah Brinks
One thing you can’t say about the French is that they hurry and Domain is a perfect example of that. Domain is a film that takes its time. The relationship between seventeen-year-old Pierre (Isaïe Sultan) and his middle aged Aunt Nadia (Béatrice Dalle) is a slow burn throughout the film. In the beginning Pierre is a bit of a lost puppy that follows her around soaking up her worldview and obsession with mathematics that she pontificates throughout the film. He forsakes spending time with his school friends to take walks in the park with her. Despite requests from his mother to spend less time together they begin to spend nearly everyday together. Pierre then take a lover, a handsome Frenchman named Fabrice and begins to be less dependent on his aunt’s company. As he pulls away she seems to need him more then ever and spirals deeper into her alcoholism. Pierre starts to see the cracks in her world-view and way of life. Once Nadia hits rock bottom and finds out she has cirrhosis of the liver she checks herself into a rehab clinic in Austria. Their relationship takes another subtle turn when Pierre visits her at the clinic and sees that she hasn’t really changed and he has. I think by the end of the film Pierre has come to realization that the only person who can help Nadia is herself.
Domain is the directorial debut of director Patric Chiha. Similar to many first-films that are written and directed by the same person, Domain has a calculated feel about it. Chiha makes some brave choices by spending so much time simply watching the main characters walking or standing together, it does however drag at times. You often see what Chiha is going for, but it seems to miss the mark by just a few degrees.
Nadia is a mathematician and sees her relationships, her actions, and the universe around her as mathematical equations. She uses math as a way to try to find order in the chaos of life, but in the end she finally realizes that chaos will always be a part of life. Her relationship with Pierre seems to be an equation of opposites. He is a man and she is a woman. He is just starting adulthood and she is well into middle age. He is just starting to form his own views on the world and she is well set her worldview.
Dalle’s performance is strong as Nadia. In the beginning you understand Pierre’s fascination with her. She is that “cool adult” we all envisioned our future selves as when we were teenagers. Dalle exhibits measured control of her performance as that “cool” persona slowly cracks and you see that she is actually a lonely, self-absorbed, alcoholic that has pushed away all the healthy relationships in her life.
Sultan’s performance as Pierre is difficult to describe. It is a very quite performance, not only is he given very little dialogue but he expresses very little emotional range. That isn’t to say that he isn’t a good actor. He embodies the naïve teenager well in the beginning of the film and then subtly transforms into a confident young adult by the end. At the peak of Nadia’s decent into alcoholism he exclaims that she drives him crazy. This is the first real outward expression of emotion you see from Pierre. Sultan seems to internalize all his thoughts and feelings as the character Pierre. In the beginning I wasn’t sure I liked this choice, but we see so many films with screaming, angry teenagers it was refreshing to see one that was subtler. The scenes with his immediate family show that he is still a teenager. He blows his mom off when she asks for details about Nadia and becomes annoyed when she tries to pry into his relationships with his friends and boyfriend.
There are no special features on the DVD. The picture and sound quality were both good. There are English subtitles on the DVD, there are a couple scenes in the snow where the white subtitles were difficult to read but that is only for a few seconds.
Domain is a languid meditation about family, self-destruction, and dealing with a chaotic universe. You have to be patient with the pace of the film but overall it is satisfying and will likely stick with you after you view it.