Earwig – Film Review
by David Turpin
Director – Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Writers – Brian Catling (from the novel by), Geoff Cox (screenplay by), Lucile Hadzihalilovic (screenplay by)
Stars – Paul Hilton, Alex Lawther, Romane Hemelaers
The third full-length feature by French filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalilovic, and her first in the English language, Earwig is at once her most abstract and, paradoxically, her least singular.
Hadzihalilovic’s previous films Innocence (2004) and Evolution (2015) are exquisite companion pieces, dream-like fantasies taking place in the adolescent world of young girls and young boys, respectively. Innocence shimmered with sunlight and was minutely attuned to the tactility of objects and fabrics; Evolution explored dank and underwater spaces, the exploratory thrill of diving into the ocean, or peeling back the protective layers of the body. Each was, in its way, a fable of becoming – a hallucinatory journey from the interior spaces of childhood to the more external, and flatter, domain of the adult.
Earwig is Hadzihalilovic’s first film to centre on an adult: Albert (Paul Hilton), a hollowed-out figure who inhabits an eerily deserted apartment building in a non-specific European city, perhaps – though not definitively – between or after either of the World Wars. There, his job is to tend to Mia (Romane Hemelaers), a grave little girl with no teeth, whose face is fitted with a contraption allowing her to wear dentures made of frozen saliva that must be replaced daily. An unseen ‘Master’ communicated with Albert by telephone, monitoring the care of Mia, who will soon be transported to an undisclosed location.
Gradually, other figures weave in and out of this dreamscape, notably Céleste (Romola Garai), a haunted woman who is subjected to a terrible, inexplicable act of violence; and Laurence (Alex Lawther), who seems simultaneously adolescent and patriarchal. The exact ways in which these figures – and they are figures, as distinct from characters – connect to Albert and Mia is kept tantalisingly obscure, at least until the final moments, which permit several possible readings but commit to none.
Where Hadzihalilovic’s previous features managed the feat of being remarkably specific in their systems of imagery, while retaining a fable-like quality, Earwig is more miasmic. The palette is dark, the atmosphere cloudy. Curiously, although its narrative elements are the most obscure of all Hadzihalilovic’s features, its tonalities feel more familiar. It’s still a fascinating place to visit – evocative at times of the obscure Polish sequences in David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, or the fetishistic worlds of Walerian Borowczyk.
The film is adapted from a novella by artist-author Brian Catling, perhaps best known for his mammoth fantasy work The Vorrh. Much of the circling dream-logic is faithfully reproduced from the book (narrative fealty to a text that rejects narrative being one of the film’s many intriguing paradoxes), although the role played by a cat has been somewhat reduced in the passage from page to screen.
A new film from Hadzihalilovic is always unmissable, and Earwig is no exception. Make of it what you will.