moka-rev Moka  (2016)    Film Movement/Drama-Thriller    RT: 89 minutes    No MPAA rating (thematic elements)    Director: Frederic Mermoud    Screenplay: Frederic Mermoud and Antonin Martin-Hilbert    Music: Christian Garcia and Gregoire Hetzel    Cinematography: Irina Lubtchansky    Release date: June 30, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Nathalie Baye, David Clavel, Diane Rouxel, Samuel Labarthe, Olivier Chantreau, Jean-Philippe Ecoffey.      Spoken in French w/English subtitles


 Grief, it’s a complicated beast. It manifests itself in so many different ways. Everybody deals with it in their own way. Some find a way to cope; others become consumed to the point that the person they were disappears. It depends on the person and the tragedy they have to endure. I can only guess that the worst of all tragedies is losing a child. No parent wants to outlive their offspring. Burying one’s own son or daughter would devastate the strongest among us. Again, this is just a guess. I’ve never been through it; to say I know how the parent feels would be both presumptuous and insensitive. I’ll just say I understand how difficult it must be.

moka This is what the French-made psychological thriller Moka deals with. Its central figure Diane (Devos, Violette) lost her teenage son to a traffic accident six months earlier. She’s understandably depressed as illustrated in the film’s opening minutes, a wordless sequence in which we see the depth of her grief and isolation. She lies in bed smoking. She bangs her head on the window. She walks around like a zombie. The only thing keeping her going is finding out who was driving the car that hit him and didn’t stop. She has a private investigator on the case. He has a few potential leads based on the description of the offender’s vehicle, a mocha-colored car (hence the title). Diane decides to follow up on them herself. She fixates on a couple from Evian (where the accident happened) who drive a car that fits the description. She’s immediately convinced they’re the culprits based on the description of the driver, a blonde-haired woman.

 The couple Diane focuses on is salon owner Marlene (Baye, Catch Me If You Can) and her younger live-in lover Michel (Clavel). Marlene also has an adult daughter Elodie (Rouxel) from her previous marriage. Diane wants revenge so she turns stalker and insinuates herself in their lives. She befriends Marlene after posing as a customer and tries to persuade Michel to sell her the offending car that’s suspiciously up for sale and has recently undergone repairs on the front end. She also becomes involved with Vincent (Chantreau), a drug runner from whom she obtains a pistol. Diane is determined to get a confession and her pound of flesh in an effort to finally gain closure.

 Director Frederic Mermoud (Accomplices) builds up sufficient tension but Moka is concerned with more than suspense and tricky plot twists (although it has both). It’s about how tragedy affects each and every one of us to varying degrees. It’s about the ripple effect of trying to gain closure in unhealthy ways. Diane’s quest for revenge takes its toll not only on her family- she’s estranged from her husband Simon (Labarthe)- but Marlene’s as well although to be fair, her domestic situation wasn’t exactly idyllic before Diane entered their lives. There was already palpable tension between her and Michel. Elodie was drifting through life with no ambitions or goals. They’re already a family in trouble; Diane brings them to the precipice of catastrophe.

 The acting by the two leads in Moka is terrific. It’s the first time these two ladies have worked together and they do a good job of it. Baye’s character goes through life with a brave smile plastered on her face. This is partly for her customers and partly a means of self-delusion, trying to convince herself that life is good when it’s really not. It’s an honest portrayal of a woman in serious denial. Diane, on the other hand, denies nothing. She outright lies about who she is and her intentions. She comes in the guise of a customer/friend. She’s not altogether successful in hiding her sadness. It’s clear that something troubles her. Her performance as a grieving mother is equally honest (even if her character isn’t). Even though Moka sometimes falls back on genre conventions, it’s a mostly fascinating, something unsettling look at grief and how one woman deals with the unthinkable. Even if the events aren’t always believable, the emotions are. Therein lies its power.

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