[Film review] The Origin of Evil [L’origine du mal]

Review by John P. Harvey.

Stéphane (Laure Calamy) has an unenviable job and a difficult girlfriend, played by Suzanne Clément, whom she visits in prison.  But, when things take an unfortunate turn in Stéphane’s living circumstances, she telephones Serge (Jacques Weber), the father she’s never known, and asks to meet him.

When Serge meets his extramarital daughter he welcomes her into the plush home he shares with his temperamental wife, Louise (Dominque Blanc), and their daughters, George (Doria Tillier) and Jeanne (Céleste Brunnquell).  But not everybody is happy to have Stéphane appear, and especially not to have her brought into their home.  The housemaid, Agnès (Véronique Ruggia), seems suspicious, and the elder sister, George, in control of the family businesses, is positively hostile, feeling that Stéphane is a money-grubbing imposter.  Louise decides to hedge her bets.

The Origin of Evil explores what occurs when six strong characters motivated purely by self-interest find themselves in conflict that is almost inevitable but largely covert.  It’s an engrossing watch.  The tension winds up almost imperceptibly through the movie’s twists and turns, especially in its latter third, and you may find your sympathies shifting unexpectedly even if some motivations remain difficult to interpret.  Adversity bringing the worst facets of each to the fore, however, few of the characters emerge with haloes intact.

Laure Calamy’s character could hardly be more different from the more light-hearted ones she frequently plays, but she plays the part with conviction.  Several of the film’s characters in fact demonstrate through convincing acting the many layers that may lie beneath a single personality and how easily an evil end may seem a logical one to pursue.

Shot superbly and directed with finesse, The Origin of Evil will draw you in and keep you anticipating, and it mostly delivers on its promises.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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