In Vino Veritas?
Published on January 11th, 2012 | by L. Caldoran0
“Domain” opens on January 13 at IFC Center.
Running time: 110 minutes.
Alcoholic writers attempting to claw their way out of the bottle have long been a common fictional trope (and, indeed, there have been many cases of life imitating art). “Domain” tweaks this formula, transplanting the addict’s creative passion to an entirely new discipline, in the story of 17-year-old Pierre (Isaïe Sultan) and his fixation on his aunt, whip-smart mathematician Nadia (a vampirically captivating Béatrice Dalle).
With her pale olive complexion, sleek dark hair, and exaggerated jutting pout, Nadia resembles an over-the-hill Angelina Jolie. Her husky voice, ramrod posture, and crisp, confident stride add an air of authority. She finds in her nephew a willing audience for her philosophies of life, expounded through long walks in the park and soft-lit dinners for two.
Nadia believes that math represents pure order, in contrast to the disorder and subjectivity of words: she describes life without mathematics as “a liquid with no container.” Nadia’s own liquid of choice happens to be white wine, guzzled down in ever more reckless, compulsive amounts: one comes to see an increasing coldness in her hard, poised stare; even sitting at the dinner table, she wobbles in place disconcertingly. It’s telling that, during periods when Nadia is more sober, each change of scene is marked by a title card declaring how much time has passed: a reflection of her precise, orderly worldview and its disruption by her alcoholism.
As “Domain” progresses, we see that the friendship between Nadia and Pierre has already grown uncomfortably close: he’s shown zipping her into the cocktail dress he selected for that evening’s dinner with her colleagues; she gives him a red sweatshirt that he seems to wear almost daily. Their relationship falls somewhere between faux-Oedipal connection (they’re still blood relatives, after all, and Nadia seems not to have any children of her own) and gay male cultural hero-worship of a self-destructive female diva (mention is made of fellow glamorous drunk Joan Crawford).
Pierre’s personality is only faintly sketched: we learn little about him beyond the fact that he likes other boys, he’s rather withdrawn, and he finds the company of his teenage peers boring. Perhaps this detachment is deliberate, such that he functions as a lens through which the audience can view Nadia and understand why he prefers to live vicariously through her own escapades. When he inevitably tires of being his aunt’s drunksitter and pulls away to become his own man, it’s clearly Nadia who was more dependent all along.
It’s also largely through Pierre that we glimpse a few visually stunning human tableaux: notably, Nadia and a few other drunken intellectuals passed out on the ground in the manner of a crime scene, and a misty, noir-lit nightclub where its denizens dance in slow-motion.
The film’s controlled, elegant, yet casual pace later slows considerably when an ailing Nadia enters a luxe Austrian rehab facility—though this may simply reflect the permanent shift in Nadia and Pierre’s dynamic. He seems to have adopted some of his aunt’s own prior icy composure and self-reliance, perhaps ultimately marking this as a rather unsettling coming-of-age film.
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