Moka (2016)

French with English subtitles

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 29 min.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 8; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 5.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord

Leviticus 19:18

Marlene (l), whom Diane suspects drove the car that killed her son, is a beautician.          (c) IFC

In Swiss director Frédéric Mermoud’s film about a mother grieving over her teenaged son’s death in a hit and run accident, loving an erring neighbor rather than wreaking vengeance is no easy task. Diane (Emmanuelle Devos) was so disturbed by her son’s death that she entered a Lausanne mental asylum where we see her hitting her head against her window in frustration because the police have not yet tracked down the culprit. She has numerous memories of her teenage son Luc (played in flashbacks by Paulin Jaccoud), a talented violinist, who was struck down across Lake Geneva on the French side in the spa town of Évian.

Fleeing from the institution, she has hired a detective to find the driver, whom an eyewitness says was a woman driving a brown or tan Mercedes. Her husband Simon (Samuel Labarthe), from whom she is estranged, counsels her to wait for the police to complete their investigation but it has been months since the accident. Their ineffectiveness is quickly proven when the detective, helped by the eyewitness, gives her a list of three cars in Evian that fits the description. (The film gets its title from the color.)

In Evian, Diane becomes convinced the mocha-colored 1972 Mercedes owned by Marlene (Nathalie Baye) is the death car. A small section of the front end has been repainted—and it is for sale. Her younger live-in partner Michel (David Clavel), a fitness instructor, is handling the sale, so, pretending to be a buyer, Diane talks with him. She also goes to the beauty shop run by Marlene, becoming involved in her life by ordering a beauty makeover and chatting her up during the process. Marlene reinforces Diane’s suspicion when she remarks, “I might not be as nice as I seem.” During the next few days, the more she associates with Marlene, the more vulnerable the suspect appears to be. For a long time, Diane neither confronts the pair about Luc’s death, nor reveals to either that she has been talking with them both.

The suspense grows when, through Vincent (Olivier Chantreau), a young drug smuggler Diane meets on the ferryboat that transports her back and forth, she obtains a pistol and receives a shooting lesson. Her smoldering anger seems about to burst forth in an act of vengeance, even as she becomes more intimate with her prey. She even becomes acquainted with Marlene’s discontented daughter Elodie (Diane Rouel), who is intent on moving as far away from her mother as possible.

The two plotlines are developed separately and then fittingly brought together in a surprising way that builds to a satisfying dénouement of justice being served. At the end of the film we even see Diane meet with Luc’s girlfriend (Marion Reymond), whom her son had not ever mentioned, the girl telling her she had heard much about her.

Dealing so well with grief and anger, the danger of jumping to conclusions, and discovering the human in the enemy, Frédéric Mermoud’s film demonstrates how shallow most American vengeance films are. People of faith believe that it is in God’s nature to extend grace to undeserving people, but for a wounded soul like Diane, observing the one whom she is certain was responsible for her son’s death, extending grace is anything but natural. It will require a complete change of perspective, a transformation seldom seen in the average vengeance-themed film. The latter are usually plot-centered, centering on how the wronged person will even the score. Mr. Mermoud is more interested in character than plot development, and his film is all the better for it—and so are the viewers.

 This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of Visual Parables.

IFC Films

 

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