Moka (2016)

A French revenge thriller.

Film Movement Release
Director: Frédéric Mermoud
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos
Adapted from Tatiana de Rosay’s 2006 novel “Moka”
Running Time: 89 minutes
In French with English subtitles
Not MPAA rated

“Moka” is a revenge thriller tendering a compact story that traverses Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Some of its action plays out on the lake’s French bank in the city of Évian-les-Bains, and the rest in the Swiss city of Lausanne. Its title refers to the color of a car involved a hit and run accident that took the life of Luc, an adolescent boy. Luc’s mother Dianne is dissatisfied with the pace and progress of forensic investigations, and against the advice of her ex-husband and a police detective, takes matters into her own masterful hands. Partly by force of her efforts, and partly by happenstance, a grisly plan takes shape.

Step by deliberate step, Diane considers the nuanced repercussions of the booby trap she sets with exactitude. Still, she allows herself enough flexion to either modify or elaborate her blueprint.

It comes as no surprise that she is a sharpshooter. Her icy resolve on the one hand, and will borne of sorrow on the other, leave little margin for error when she takes aim. Fortunately, the quotidian complications in the lives of those whom she targets push against those margins. What she discovers as she chips away at the appearances she assumes are deceiving, proves to be, yes, wrenching, but also surprisingly useful. Side by side with compassion she finds justification for an outrage that exceeds what her own grief has ignited. To focus the immense anger, she must compress it, as more would necessarily beget less. The steam-fitted emotion now becomes the motor force for a new framework and a changed resolution. The plot that unrolls slowly, nonetheless takes twists and turns that parallel the forays of the bronze-colored car into lakeside terrain.

An intriguing turning point is a confrontation between Diane and the woman she believes has killed her son. This very big moment occurs in a small, garishly painted room. The viewer, as its captive audience, feels the intensifying compression when the two women square off in this climactic scene. Each one has her own grim stake in learning from the other what and who caused Luc’s death. It’s a short, scrupulously directed scene. Each character emerges stripped of all the gears she’s shifted through to arrive at this revealing first clearing in otherwise dark and tangled woods.

In Devos’ character Diane, we find a clutch of personae, soldered together like an impenetrable yet flexible cable. The male characters parry with time-honored poses: they threaten, cajole, shame, charm, stroke, and flatter, but the more they tilt, the more she stands her ground. She has lost a son, and she is intractable. Only the vicissitudes of everyday life in their unalterable reality, and the correspondences between her own suffering and that of other women, realign her trajectory. She abandons the assumed identity she has taken on, and motors forward to navigate newly-discovered points of interest in her son’s short but significant life.

Toba Singer

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.