‘This is no fun,’ exclaims Dr Cooper, on a phone call to her former captor. It may not be fun, but, solemn and serious, Lola Doillon’s second feature delivers the tension its theatrical premise promises.
Kristin Scott Thomas, continuing her edgy French-speaking career, plays Dr Cooper. The film opens with Dr Cooper emerging from a building, dishevelled, dowdy in a yellow T-shirt. She eventually gets home, where she charges her phone and checks for messages. Her mother, her ex and her employer missed her. She was supposed to be on holiday, but we soon learn what happened when she goes to the police to report an abduction and detainment
Yann Ochberg’s partner died during a Caesarean section operation performed by Dr Cooper, a gynaecologist. He seeks revenge by kidnapping her. What will he do next before she escapes?
French title Contre toi translates as ‘against you’, not as nice as In Your Hands, but it emphasises the conflict Dr Cooper endures with Yann. Doillon’s film is a character study, examining so-called Stockholm syndrome, which describes captives’ attitudes to their captors. By showing Dr Cooper escaping at the beginning, Doillon prepares the audience for a different kind of tension to that which audiences might expect, a tension more suited to theatre, with two actors playing it out in a confined setting.
Lola Doillon, daughter of director Jacques Doillon (Ponette) and film editor Noëlle Boisson, overcomes any theatricality. The austere colour palette avoids primary colours (apart from the yellow T-shirt). Shades of grey and navy predominate, and stark white backgrounds underline the bleak atmosphere. Silence on stage can be awkward or dull, but the camera captures in close-up expressions and gesture, while editing allows the drama to unfold in short, often wordless scenes. The soundtrack features heavy breathing, the sound of locks opening and closing, doors slamming shut, and the score, featuring sombre strings and piano, complements the film’s tone.
The film’s showpiece is Scott Thomas’s performance. Watch her face, her eye movements, her poise. She excels in conveying Dr Cooper’s fear, anger, denial, depression. She agreed to do the film for little money immediately upon reading the script. Doillon filmed sequentially, adapting it to the organic development that this approach allows as actors come to know their characters intimately. Pio Marmaï is also effective, playing a difficult character, someone who is not quite sure what he’s doing but whose emotions are strong, violent. Indeed, the film is most effective in capturing the threat of violence, sexual violence, and the situation’s strange intimacy.
The film’s drawbacks are its coldness and doubtful credibility. Dr Cooper leads a solitary life, her relationships depending on contact by mobile phone. The kidnapping disrupted her vacation, but there is no real sense that her holiday was going to be fun. Her loneliness may explain why she begins to feel for Yann the way she does, but her motivations remain muddled, which, for audiences, may be intriguing, but not exactly fun.
In Your Hands is released on 20th July 2012