The Restless (Les Intranquilles) (15)           French Film Festival 2021   

The opening scene of Belgian Director Joachim Lafosse’s film The Restless (French title Les Intranquilles) sets the scene for the insight he gives into what it’s like to live with someone who is bipolar. What we see is Damien (Damien Bonnard) out on a speed boat with his young son Amine (Gabriel Metz Chammah). Suddenly, he gives up the steering of the boat, hands the wheel over to the boy who only looks about 8 years old, and announces he’s decided to swim ashore instead.

Imagine the horror of the mother Leila (Leila Bekhti) as she sees her child bringing a boat to shore alone. What starts off as witnessing her carefully masked anxiety as she deals with an unusual situation in a calm and practical way – she checks if Amine was afraid (he wasn’t!) – soon rolls out to the crescendo of dealing with the increasingly uncontrollable behaviour and lack of awareness of danger of the man she loves.

Damien’s high energy, despite lack of sleep and manic obsessive behaviour, takes pendulum swings to deep inertia and intense inner anguish in private moments. He is like a giant, uncontrollable child who is constantly told by partner Leila with weary patience to ‘take your Lithium’ but doesn’t. As she manages the roles of nursemaid, lover, mother and housewife, she demonstrates the daily dilemmas of a loving partner and the various forms that love can take but snaps when dynamics shift and her  authority is undermined when male bonding between father and son overrides her normally quiet if strained consideration. The generally biddable Amine is mature beyond his years and more level headed than his Dad as is shown in a touching role reversal when he firmly coaxes his Dad out of his inert bed.

Damien Bonnard’s character is an artist whose studio in the film is that of Belgian still life artist Piet Raemdonck. Actual paintings by him and Bonnard feature in this fly on wall style film whose colour palette seems to reflects these abstract works like the studio come to life, adding a lightness to this heart breaking portrait.

A film made in 2021 rightly, if unusually, that shows actors wearing masks allows this factor to expose Damien’s behaviour and its wider impact.

Musical soundtrack from Ólafur Arnalds and Antoine Bodson is laced with sadness throughout in this ninth feature film from Lafosse that was inspired by his photographer father who lived with bipolar disorder. It gives an honest glimpse in to the extremes of the condition that goes from disturbing and dangerous to moving moments of clarity shown with enormous sensitivity through outstanding performances from the lead actors who don’t overstate the already dramatic circumstances.

Irene Brown

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