Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Destination Diabolique: "The Legacy" (2007)

Sometimes the description "thriller" can be bandied about recklessly.

Celine (Olga Legrand), Patricia (Sylvie Testud), and Jean (Stanislas Merhar) are all French nationals travelling to the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Celine has inherited some property from her great-grandmother, and wants to claim it. In Georgia, they meet with Nikolai (Pascal Bongard), a French-Georgian translator (!) who just came from a job that ended badly. He desperately needs the money. Celine's inheritance is a crumbling castle two days' bus ride from Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. The foursome get on the bus, and meet some very interesting companions.

An unnamed young man (Giorgi Babluani) and his grandfather (Leo Gaparidze) get on the bus, carrying an empty coffin. A mute man (Augustin Legrand) is also along for the ride, making money selling the other passengers food and cigarettes. Through Nikolai, the French trio find out the grandfather and grandson are going to a small town in order to settle a decades-old blood feud between two families. Although he was not directly involved, the grandfather is due to be executed when they arrive, and he is carrying the coffin to his own death. Nikolai and the others soon forget Celine's castle, and want to get involved in the impending death, capturing it on video for posterity.

"The Legacy," also known as "L'heritage," is pretty frustrating. The film is brief, less than an hour and twenty minutes, but also comes up short on characters' backgrounds. I did not learn the names of Celine and Patricia until I read the end credits, and did not learn which actress played whom until I checked a plot summary on Amazon.com. Nikolai seems to be the main character, easily lead along by the morbid circumstances and his employers, but of everyone we meet, the film makers show him the least amount of interest. There is a bit of business at the beginning of the film, where we glean that Nikolai may have some sort of luck when it comes to escaping danger, but this point is not followed through. I found the grandson and grandfather more compelling, there is a potent sense of dread surrounding the old man, and the viewer is drawn to them...before being wrenched back to the main characters and their inexplicable desire to videotape the grandfather's murder.

The writers/directors, Temur and Gela Babluani, are a father/son team, perhaps explaining why they handle the familial characters so well. While the Georgian locations are something I have never seen on film before, the directors spend way too much camera time on closeups of the French actors. The ambiguous ending, while completely unsatisfying, does not surprise me after witnessing the first seventy minutes of the film.

There is some suspense, and the grandfather looked uncomfortably like a favorite uncle of mine who passed away a few years ago, so the film is not a total loss. You will just be at a loss trying to figure "The Legacy" out. (* * *) out of five stars.