There can be a fine line separating a film that is a “slow burn” from a film that is simply slow. Moka, the new character drama from director Frederic Mermoud, may be a personal litmus test for viewers. The film-making is assured. The performances are uniformly excellent. But even at 90 minutes, Moka takes its time arriving at a conclusion that many viewers will see coming a mile away.
Diane (Emmanuelle Devos) has suffered a tragic loss. Through conversations about police investigations and characters mentioning “the accident”, we learn that her son has been killed some months earlier by a blonde woman in a brown vehicle who sped away from the scene. Diane is adrift, aimless. She is incapable of resuming her life while her son’s killer remains unfound. She hires a private investigator who leads her to Marlene (Nathalie Baye), the woman she believes may be responsible for her son’s death. Diane befriends Marlene in an effort to confirm her suspicions.
The themes and events depicted in Moka are muted. Even the color palette of the film is dulled, subdued. Diane has been stunted by her son’s death, unable to “move on” or to “put the pieces back together”. She is estranged from her husband, unmoored from her former life. She acts erratically as people who have experienced a tragedy often do. She lives in a state of suspended animation. And so does the film. It’s an effective way to tell Diane’s story, but it may try the patience of the average film-goer.
Character dramas such as this can easily veer into melodrama, devolving into teeth gnashing and tears. Moka avoids overt attempts to pull at the audience’s heartstrings by showing us a mother who is several months into her loss. She’s at a point where she needs to start making peace with her new life, but she can’t because the story of her son’s death doesn’t have a conclusion. Diane needs to discover the truth. By finding the ending of her son’s life, she can give herself a new beginning.
I refer to Moka as an “eye of the beholder” films. It’s the type of film that goes to the core of your personal aesthetic as a film fan. Some will be bored by its languid pace while others will find it an honest account of grief and the incomprehensible way that accidents and misfortunes can change a life in an instant. With summer multiplexs filled with movies that go BOOM, I found Moka to be an interesting change of pace.
Moka is currently playing in Landmark Theatre locations across the country.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.