Before Me, The Flood (2021 Film)
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|Devant Moi, Le Déluge|
Worldwide theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Frédéric Paquin|
|Produced by||Solène Ardouin|
|Written by||Isaïe Auch|
|Music by||Vivienne Brosseau|
|Edited by||Martin Cordonnier|
|Distributed by||Film Gaullice|
|October 17, 2021 (Montecara)|
Before Me, The Flood (Gaullican: Devant Moi, Le Déluge) is a 2021 Gaullican horror and science-fiction drama directed by Frédéric Paquin and written by Isaïe Auch. The film follows many of Paquin's preferred directorial styles including mostly filming in black and white, liberal usage of long take shots and extensive uses of point-of-view shots. It stars Felix Lafléche, Jocelyn Marais and Tamou Zniber in main roles. Whilst Lafléche and Marais have collaborated with Paquin before, it marks Zniber's first appearance in Gaullican film following her successes in Tsabaran productions.
The film follows Captain Bonhomme, one of the survivors in a post-apocalyptic Verlois as he journeys across the destroyed city, frequently beset by visions before the apocalypse, as he wrestles with a guilt that throughout the film unravels itself to the audience.
Production began as early as late 2019, but was delayed due to scheduling conflicts between the actors. Production resumed in September of 2020 through early 2021. It was almost entirely filmed in Verlois and its surrounding suburbs, though sets were also utilised. The film premiered at the 82nd Montecara Film Festival, releasing in Gaullica and several select countries the following day on the 19th of October, with a full international release on the 22nd of the same month.
Captain Bonhomme (Felix Lafléche) roams an abandoned supermarket, its shelves long since cleared. Adorned in protective gear and a gasmask, Bonhomme continues to traverse across the ruined aisles of the supermarket, quietly and with caution, passing by countless skeletons in tattered clothes, frozen in poses. One, which Bonhomme inspects with sadness, cradles an object is no longer there. After these ruminations he is able to open what were clearly barricaded doors at the back of the store to the market's storage centre. This area is relatively untouched, though it becomes clear with the familiarity the captain has with it he has been here before. As he finishes filling his bag with an assortment of canned goods, a monstrous howl echoes across the building, causing him to startle and almost drop one of the cans. Drawing a bayoneted rifle he darts to an exit, able to escape whatever creature created the howl, and stumbles into the deserted and silent city of Verlois.
The city is draped in a thin veneer of snow and Bonhomme continues his journey back to his home, navigating past a congestion of cars and what appears to be an armoured vehicle submerged in debris from a fallen building. It is here Bonhomme is subject to his first memory of the past. He sees an unidentifiable silhouette of a woman and child, the latter chastising him in whispers, as they walk out of the door of a house. Resting a hand on the bonnet of one of the cars, his consciousness fades in and out as the perception of the world before him becomes muddled with that of his memory. He sees people within each vehicle, though as he looks again notices they are all faceless, and clawing at their closed windows. As he rushes between the vehicles, aiming to escape this torrent of hands, he looks back and realises the hands are no longer there -- save for a single opened palm tapping at the car window ahead of him. He wipes frost from the window and finds a woman seemingly trapped within.
Prying the frozen car's door open, Bonhomme interrogates the woman by gun-point until she identifies herself as Sandrine Ouvrard (Tamou Zniber) from Trousseau Hospital, one of the few remaining places of human habitation in Verlois. She explains that she took refuge in the vehicle from a nearby pack of wolves, and is nursing an injured leg. Ouvrard requests Bonhomme for assistance in returning to the hospital, which is described as being on the "other side of Chrétien Tower". In this moment Bonhomme experiences another conflation of reality as the silhouetted woman he saw before replaces Ouvrard, repeating the phrase "you said you would help" until he relents, and acquiesces to her request only to see Ouvrard smiling in the place of the apparition. The two begin to travel towards their destination, the looming presence of the rusting Chrétien Tower piercing above the skyline, and the faint echoes of a familiar howl repeat behind them.
The two converse and Bonhomme asks about the hospital. He is told that it is a fairly organised place, with 'some former military guy in charge, or something' and that they're getting by on scavenging but they have to keep scavenging from further away. He also learns that Ouvrard was a primary school teacher before "it all went wrong" and that she held out hope by roaming the grounds of her former school for any surviving children. As they take a rest under the bridge that once led to Verlois' 'Confluence Quarter', Ouvrard fatalistically remarks to Bonhomme that their masks have no point and only prolong suffering. His reply comes with the proffering of one of the cans of food he found. They continue to converse and Ouvrard unwittingly admits to Bonhomme that she feels guilt for the deaths of her students, boys and girls no older than four or five, because of her absence at the day of "the incident". Telling her that the circumstances were out of her control, Bonhomme laments that no one can feel true guilt for their actions on that day due to the fact that no-one knew that the world would end on it. As their conversation begins to die down Bonhomme suggests that Ouvrard catches some sleep and he'll take the first watch. As she sleeps, Bonhomme begins a patrol of their camp beneath the bridge and begins methodically creating alarm systems out of tripwires and shards of glass. It is not long as he takes a long reflective watch over the Mareine river, that some of the shards of glass crack and a whimpering pant of pain. He draws his gun and flashlight, casting light in the direction, where we see a long contorted shadow -- but no caster of the shadow. Bonhomme moves to the shattered glass and finds thick, viscous blood coating some of the panels and casts light on a trail that descends down to the river. He elects not to pursue it and takes his turn to sleep.
Bonhomme awakes not in the damp, cold campsite they had made beneath the bridge but in what is presumably his house. Clambering out of bed, he finds himself dressed from head to toe in military attire and hears the sound of commotion and frying in the kitchen. As he enters the kitchen, the silhouettes of a woman and a child are there and they speak to him, but their voices are muddled and nonsensical. He replies to them yet finds no control in what he says, and after an increasingly tense breakfast as he struggles to resist the lure of the conversation, he heads to work. Arriving at the Ministry of Defence, Bonhomme meets with his superior Estienne Charbonnier (Jocelyn Marais) who gives him long and arduous security briefings pertaining to recent developments across the globe. Many of these statements are vague as it appears Bonhomme fades in and out of consciousness. Charbonnier ends the debriefing by telling Bonhomme that he has "complete faith and trust in his abilities" as well as assuring him he understands the gravity of the situation, but is confident Bonhomme will be able to reach a quick solution. Charbonnier clasps him on the shoulders and informs him that the Republic is with him as he leaves the office. As Bonhomme follows wordlessly to his command station, he collapses into his seat and shuts his eyes.
He is thrust awake, again, beneath the bridge over the Mareine by an increasingly impatient Ouvrard who tells him he's overslept. Unsure of where he is, it takes the captain a few moments to register Ouvrard before he audibly reconfirms their mission to arrive at Trousseau Hospital, and the two set off. Their conversation is less personal than their previous one, with Bonhomme dodging many of the questions thrown at him. He tells Ouvrard that he worked for the government, was ex-military and happened to be 'at the right place' at the time of the end of the world, but does not go further. She presses him on it, but his reply is silence as they continue throughout the abandoned streets of Verlois. As she prepares to ask him about his family, Bonhomme instead deflects the line of enquiry by informing her of the encounter with 'a monster' that evening. She chastises him for his negligence in failing to inform her as he woke her up.
For the next part of their journey the two travel in silence and continue their trek across the ruined streets of Verlois, until they come across the Poissonnière Metro Station. With the road ahead blocked by destroyed infrastructure and the remnants of a military checkpoint, they elect to get to the hospital by way of the underground. The underground is not lit, and Bonhomme passes Ouvrard a flashlight as he attaches one to his rifle. Passing through derelict subway trains, clambering over debris, and wading through hip-high water almost ends with Ouvrard drowning as her mask's seals crack and water begins to enter as she's submerged. Bonhomme heaves her out of the water, notices the cracks, and offers to end her suffering quickly -- only for Ouvrard to perform a field repair of the mask in front of him. Further into the underground Bonhomme halts their advance as they see fire flickering ahead and hear three distinct voices in conversation. The voices are joyous and regaling and whilst Bonhomme and Ouvrard listen in silence, it is revealed that two of the voices were once military soldiers stationed at the ministry of defence and the third was a civil servant. Raising a hand to indicate to halt, Bonhomme travels forward on his own. Out of sight of Ouvrard he turns the safety off of his weapon and affixes his bayonet back on.
Bonhomme steps into the light with his gun raised and demands to know if the three are friendly or if they will harm those who seek passage. Two of the men reach for their weapons at the sight of Bonhomme's gun, whilst the third -- the civil servant -- exercises caution and tells everyone to calm down. Bonhomme orders both ex-soldiers to stand down, claiming he is Lieutenant Colonel Estienne Charbonnier, but both soldiers do not believe him and state that the old military ranks are over. As one begins to threaten Bonhomme to go back the way he came, he is shot in the knee. Before the other can react, Bonhomme points the gun at him and tells him to stand down. In a brief moment, as he barks out commands to 'do as your superiors command', his vision distorts and we see Estienne yelling similar lines at him as computer screens flare up in vague warning signs. As he comes back to reality, Bonhomme has shot both soldiers and stabbed the civil servant, though non-fatally and collects their weapons. He calls out for Ouvrard to come out so they can continue. Seeing the dying men and having heard the conversation, Ouvrard contemplates confronting the captain but decides against it seeing the abundance of weapons on him.
They re-emerge on the surface having taken up a maintenance ladder into another metro-level and then walking out at Chrétien station. Here, Ouvrard asks for a gun to protect herself, and Bonhomme obliges - only for her to load the gun and point it at him. She asks why he lied about who he was, and whether he was Estienne or Bonhomme, to which he tells her he is actually Estienne. However, Ouvrard is not convinced and calls him out on his lie -- Lieutenant Colonel Estienne Charbonnier is the military officer who leads the community at the hospital. She asks him why he is lying about who he is, and Bonhomme winces. To him Ouvrard becomes the silhouetted woman again, who accuses him of failing his family: the whispers ask him why he did not give them time to leave. Answering both of them inadvertently, Bonhomme yells that it was what was expected of him and he had no choice.
As Bonhomme believes he is addressing the silhouette of the woman he is really speaking to Ouvrard, and he confesses that he is in fact Captain Bonhomme. That he worked at the Ministry of Defence before the end of the world and that it was tasked of him whether to assess that the threats picked up by Gaullica's early warning defence systems were genuine or errors and in that moment elected to believe that Gaullica was under-attack. Still believing he is talking to the silhouette, as he confesses, the silhouette transforms into a person that he calls his wife. As he admits that he was not sure whether or not he doomed the world to an error, he slumps down, and sees the world for what it was, as Ouvrard shakily holds the gun at him. She asks him who is he talking to, and he replies to her, to his wife, to the voices of the billions that have haunted him since he commanded the retaliatory strikes that set the world ablaze.
In his confusion and anger, Bonhomme lurches for his weapon and pulls the trigger. The shot misses, but he thrusts it forward and pierces Ouvrard's leg with the bayonet. Panicking at his attack, she fires and hits Bonhomme on the side of his hip. He slumps against the wall of the metro and looks up at the woman he's injured as she screams why he attacked her, where he again confesses that he has no idea: that ever since that day he has lived with no purpose, afraid of the repercussions of his sins, and that he is afraid of dying based on where he might end up: "for how can God allow a man into Heaven who destroyed his Earth?"
Ouvrard is lost for words. She asks Bonhomme what happened to his family and he tells her that he told them they were going to die over a phone-call and that his wife damned him for being a coward and a failure. Ouvrard does not know whether to agree, but states he is certainly something. She tells him that they have medical supplies at the hospital but Bonhomme says to save them for men worthy of saving. Fatalistically, Bonhomme demands to be allowed to die, that he has suffered in the hell of his own creation for enough. Ouvrard tells him that his fate is up the world he created, and that if he changes his mind, she'll be at the hospital and points down a road and that if he chooses to die that his help getting here was perhaps a single atonement he could do.
She begins to walk away as Bonhomme experiences a recollection, now clear, of the events leading up to his call. Before him computer screens flash and light up with warning symbols and signs, indicating how long Eastern Euclea has until it is hit by missiles. He twists a key and utters "devant moi, le déluge" as many of the people around him weep. He wonders whether or not Ouvrard is correct, that he can never fix his mistake, but make the world he made less of a hell, as he stands up and begins to limp after the woman.
- Felix Lafléche as Captain Bonhomme, a military-man living his life in post-apocalyptic Verlois who is haunted by memories of his life before the world ended.
- Jocelyn Marais as Lieutenant Colonel Estienne Charbonnier, Bonhomme's superior before the world ended, who frequently appears in his manifested memories.
- Tamou Zniber as Sandrine Ouvrard, a survivor from a hospital community who finds Bonhomme whilst scavenging -- and enlists his help.
- Angèle Vallotton as Mrs Bonhomme.
- Vincent Boudier as military soldier #1.
- Axel Beaubois as military soldier #2.
- Jean-Philippe Longchambon as the civil servant.
Development, writing and casting
A majority of the film is monochrome. Paquin is famed for his usage of black and white colour in his story-telling, utilising the lack of colour to draw attention to particular objects that may be coloured and to provide assistance to the atmosphere and tone of the picture. However, several important scenes of the film are filmed in polychrome: it was a conscious decision as a way to assist in differentiating what was happening in reality and what was happening in Bonhomme's head that colour would be used. Paquin described his decision as "a way to make it fairly clear with the audience and to break the monotony of monochrome -- I love it, but I understand for some it may be jarring. A sprinkle of colour will snap someone's attention immediately; and its a fantastic way to play with your audiences' expectations".
Several sequences are filmed as if from Bonhomme's point of view, including all segments inside his head and the final confrontation. Another key element of the film is Paquin's usage of long shots, which he described as being "an attempt to make the audience, the viewer, feel as if they're watching Bonhomme and Ouvrard walk away from them. That they're, right with them, in the apocalypse -- watching them from a decrepit building."