Battle for Love
Review of the film Remember to Blink
Battle for love: You’ll forget to blink in a venomous family drama that keeps you guessing
Simmering tension prevails through Austėja Urbaitė’s genre-bending, formally audacious debut Remember to Blink, which takes its time in revealing the director’s true intentions. Observational camerawork and a conversational style initially chronicle the life of a wealthy but childless French couple – Jacqueline (Anne Azoulay and Leon (Arthur Igual). With the arrival of their adopted children from Lithuania, and a young translator/babysitter Gabriele (Dovilė Kundrotaitė), their perfect image of peaceful country life gradually starts to shatter.
Moving through a rustic wooden house, Gabriela teaches little Karolina (Inesa Sionova) and Rytis (Ajus Antanavicius) the French language, creating with them a strong and potentially dangerous emotional bond. Although no real conflict arises in the early stages, Urbaitė’s intentional withholding of information creates a mood of subtle unease that slowly creeps across the wooden floors, much like the snakes that roam around the countryside, indicating a conflict that’s about to unfold. Soon enough this house will become a pit of snakes, despite the facade of normalcy.
In her controlled performance, Azoulay internalises her character’s emotions. The sudden bursts of twitches and frantic movements of her eyes portray a woman that could lose her composure at any given moment. Even when family life seems perfectly fine, with deliberate and precise use of close-ups of awkward silences and suggestive glances, Urbaitė conjures a feeling of underlying tension. Gradually, the controlling Jacqueline grows jealous of Gabriella’s spontaneous bond with the children, allowing Urbaitė to take a viewer on an unpredictable journey. The modest family drama transforms into a full-blown psychological thriller. In a potboiler second half, the two women begin a psychological battle over the love and affection of two children. Urbaitė further pierces into the character’s psyches through unexpected writing choices, demonstrating how far people are willing to go in a search of love and affection.
Scenes of the family’s everyday life are intertwined with the shots of nature – as foreboding as it is beautiful. As venomous feelings of jealousy carry on, the natural environment becomes polluted with fog and fire. Peculiar moments of the characters intercut with the natural setting further add to the mystique. It’s as if the spirit of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films has possessed this modest family drama. In an especially revealing moment, the film cuts from a close-up of an angry Jacqueline to a wide shot of a massive forest fire. Through such details, Urbaitė seems to suggest a certain synchronicity between the people and their natural environment. Yet this idea is never fully explored and becomes only an interesting sideline. Such is the case with the fascinating but underdeveloped motif of Gorgons from Greek mythology. Urbaitė draws a parallel between the mythological creatures’ powerful gaze that turns people into stone, and the mother’s ability to stall the progress of her child with obsessive behavior. Such undercooked ideas occasionally make the film feel overstuffed.
Remember to Blink is an ambitious work of a filmmaker in full command of her craft, managing to weave different genres, moods, and visual ideas, into a complex web of toxic human behaviour. It’s a cynical view of human nature and one that’s hard to look away from.
© FIPRESCI 2022