“Debacle”: from cruel child’s play to a descent into hell

The film Debacle is built on the gap between innocence and trauma, silence and revelation, shame and reparation. Adapted from the best-seller Het Smelt (2016), by Belgian author Lize Spit ( Débâcle in French version, by Actes Sud, 2018), it describes a cruel child’s game, in which little Eva (Rosa Marchant) will participate. . To chase away her loneliness, attract attention and get closer to Tim, the little girl helps boys to lure the “prettiest” ones to drag them into a quiz & strip (for each wrong answer, the participants are asked to remove an item of clothing, before letting himself be fiddled with). Eva has the idea of the riddle: a man is found hanging in the middle of an empty room. There’s just a puddle of water on the floor. What happened ?

By simplifying the plot of the novel, director Veerle Baetens (actress discovered in Alabama Monroe , by Felix Van Groeningen, 2013) delivers a harsh first film, where the awakening of the senses no longer has anything charming. Ten years after these events, we find Eva, photo assistant. One evening, she goes to a party in her native village, a block of ice in her trunk, determined to confront her past.

Pleasure of causing pain

If the present takes the time for the lament, almost excessive in its length, its emotions, its muteness and its icy tones, the flashback, filmed at the height of the child, from the child’s point of view, turns out to be more complex, imbued with candor, curiosity, but also hardness. Eva, ready to do anything to find a place among those she loves, acts badly. Out of desperation. The resulting shock stages his descent into hell.

According to the English philosopher John Locke, children are not cruel by nature… Their violence is modeled on the world of adults. The pleasure of making a sentient being suffer, of tormenting a lizard or a little brother, is nothing other than the desire to copy adult society. In Debacle , the children indeed create a nightmare around which irresponsible parents roam, mired in their daily worries.

Prohibited for children under 12 with a warning, the film raises the question of the representation of violence among young people. Without revealing anything about the torture endured by Eva, which constitutes the primary suspense, we sense – perhaps too explicitly – how much care the director took to film “ethical”. The faces. Especially the faces. One might believe that Veerle Baetens resorts to off-camera, in reality she cuts right into her frame. Cut just above unbearable. Films on the edge of abuse, but right in the middle of pain. Creepy.

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