A film noir atmosphere that somehow has to coexist with a research bathed almost entirely in sunlight. But that’s not the only borderline which Frédéric Mermoud’s new film Moka ventures along – there are many other frontiers to cross. From the geographical limits of Lake Geneva, which separates Switzerland and France, to the psychological ones of his female lead, whose need to process her response to grief seems to share space in a delicate equilibrium with her desire for revenge. A play of chiaroscuro which first and foremost is made flesh on screen in the face and body of Emmanuelle Devos, her feverish pain expressed externally in her features alongside a melancholy free from illusions. And Devos, not for the first time a muse for the filmmaker from the French-speaking Valais region of Switzerland, is the pivot on which the film’s emotional pathway hinges. That journey takes her – especially in the second part – to find a counterbalance in another French actress, of the caliber of Nathalie Baye.
Among the four Swiss talents brought together under one roof at Band à part Films (Bron, Baier, Meier, Mermoud) – all of whom have deep and longstanding ties with Festival del film Locarno – Frédéric Mermoud offers here another proof of his tendency to aim his gaze at genre filmmaking, to subvert it from within. This he does by exploiting the versatility of narrative horizons that still allow him to include auteur hallmarks within his films, at the same time inverting certain standard reference coordinates. Already in his previous crime thriller Complices, an entry to the Concorso Internazionale in 2009, the opening scenes deliberately undermined some of the whodunnit tension through the discovery of a final corpse. Likewise in Moka everything begins with a trauma that has already taken place, lighting the fuse for tension that accumulates only gradually, not so much driving the action forward, but plumbing even greater psychological depths of the characters as a result. The clues scattered along the way are basic and few in number: the search for a missing person, a wrecked car, a pistol, certain Hitchcockian echoes. Together with the loss, guilt and urgency of someone seeking a “just” peace. Amid the chasms which open up when someone breaks out of the cage of genre storytelling.Lorenzo Buccella