Austin Film Festival: The Lion’s Path
He is Nietzschean, hear him roar
By Marc Savlov,
12:15PM, Sat. Oct. 31, 2015
This debut feature from Québecoise director Stéphan Beaudoin gets high marks for its excellent ensemble cast and its clever and occasionally alarming portrait of a communal psychotherapy group in rural Canada and the manipulative mind games that go on there.
In that regard, it’s a second cousin/cousine of sorts to David Cronenberg’s The Brood, although audience members hoping for the therapeutic and gore-drenched histrionics of Oliver Reed’s Dr. Hal Raglan will come away disappointed; “the shape of rage” depicted here runs to more standard conventions, but the film nonetheless holds your eye and makes you think long and hard about how the viewer might react if immersed in such an ill-freighted encounter group.
A closer stylistic antecedent might be the unforgivably little-seen Martha Marcy May Marlene, although in place of that film’s emotionally bedeviled little girl lost, The Lion’s Path focuses on Alex (the excellent Frédéric Lemay), who goes along with his new flame Jade (a striking Geneviéve Bédard) and a pair of her friends to an isolated farmstead-cum-encounter group nestled in Walden-esque natural splendor. Overseen by leader/guru Gabriel (Sébastien Delorme), the film plays out, initially, like a horror movie waiting to happen. Director of photography Thomas Sicotte evokes a sense of slow-burn menace with long, languid takes of the surrounding woods, and the eerie, spare score from Martin Roy and Luc Sicard jangles nerves and posits an unhappy ending for all.
Beaudoin and his co-writer are more interested in depicting the malleability of young, twentysomething’s still-developing mindsets than they are in scaring you, however. Announcing that here, “There is no morality, no right or wrong,” while urging his followers to disinhibit themselves from societal norms (monogamy is so not Nietzschean, apparently), Gabriel drives a wedge between Alex and Jade. Alex initially plays along - he’s a born seeker to be sure - but as mysterious beatings and taboo couplings occur and the group is encouraged to focus on animal instinct alone, he sours on the allegedly beneficial retreat. Smart.
It’s never stated outright whose path really is the titular lion’s - stern, stoic Gabriel or shocked, recalcitrant Alex’s - but that ambiguity is one of the film’s greatest strengths. It makes you ponder the nature of free will in group settings long after the movie’s concise, 78-minute running time is over.