Home > Reviews > Le seuil du vide (Jean-François Davy, France, 1972)

Le seuil du vide (Jean-François Davy, France, 1972)

What’s the single most boring way you can start a film? With an airliner taking off probably. (Remember the Jet Age?) That keynote of ‘sixties and ‘seventies glamour familiar from countless formulaic thrillers is enough to provoke a groan of despair. But the focus immediately pulls back to the foreground to show a young woman watching it depart. Short haired, handsome but a little gaunt, she seems to have been crying. Why has she been left behind? The cliché has worked for once; I want to know her story.

Putting aside her past for now, Wanda (Dominique Erlanger) on the spur of the moment takes a train to Paris. Already on the journey, independent and confident though she may be, she is feeling hints of alienation from the passengers packing her in to the threadbare compartment. Her most pressing worries are solved when a kindly old lady offers her a room; shabby it may be, but it’s cheap. Wanda, a painter, could be thirty but is part of the perpetual student class endemic to Paris. The black-clad old lady is a shadow of a bygone age. Nevertheless the two become close, the younger woman reminding her landlady of her youth. But she must promise to never, ever, no matter what, open the mysterious door in her room with the rusty lock. (Seriously folks, don’t open those kind of doors; you’ll have nothing but trouble.)

This is a story of a young woman’s alienation and breakdown, of shifting identities, of present times and lost times, and maybe of evil outside forces. This genre was especially common at the time, though of course can be traced back to The Yellow Wallpaper and beyond. The most obvious comparisons are from Roman Polanski (Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Tenant (1976)), amongst many others such as Larraz’s Symptoms (1974). Threshhold of the Void stands up quite strongly against them.

It picks up well on the particular loneliness of rooms at night in a strange city, the unfamiliar creaks from inside and the traffic noises from outside, the rare human voices becoming lost amongst them. The camera is used skillfully, and the art direction is sometimes uniquely beautiful and sinister. A weak point is a lack of range from the lead; she’s unconvincing once she has to go beyond the rather assured and distant persona of the earlier parts of the film. A good example of a rare genre, the French horror film.

 

Rating:   ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 4/5

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“Le seuil du vide” “Jean-François Davy” “Dominique Erlanger” “French horror”
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