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NIFFF 2020 - Review: Fishlove

Cineuropa  June, 8th | Muriel Del Don

In his third feature film, Olivier Babinet shows us a world teetering dangerously close to the edge, which only love can pull us back from

Despite the healthy dose of humour and surrealism flooding all his films, Olivier Babinet has no qualms about conjuring up a worrying, uncertain and constantly mutating future, helmed by depressed anti-heroes who wield undeniable decadent charm. Another characteristic of his works is a willingness to explore often uncomfortable social issues: adolescence as it plays out on the city outskirts, as was the focus of the documentary Swagger presented in Cannes (ACID) in 2016, and the environment, with respect to his latest fascinating film Fishlove, selected for NIFFF 2020.

The world is in bad shape: fish are pretty much extinct, and the seas and oceans resemble underwater graveyards. As scientists the world over desperately hunt for a solution to a now planetary problem, French biologist Daniel Luxet (the brilliant Gustave Kervern) tries to re-invigorate fish with the desire to copulate. It’s ironic that his work should revolve around reproduction, given that he himself wallows in a progressively prison-like state of solitude, celibate and obsessed with becoming a father, a desire he hasn’t quite managed to satisfy. One day, unexpectedly, as he happens to catch a strange or at least ambiguously-shaped fish (which he names Nietzsche), he meets Lucie, a young woman (the astonishing India Hair) who pushes him to face up to his fears and the absurdity of his existence. This happy encounter has a series of consequences which will help our solitary biologist to understand what he’s really missing and will guide him down an unexpected path towards happiness of a kind he might have always denied himself.

In this astonishing, apocalyptically-toned, romantic comedy, Babinet tackles the topic of the environment, but also that of paternity and stereotypical masculinity, in genuinely surprising fashion. With humour and poetry, Fishlove (a title and a guarantee) homes in on two characters on the edge, beautiful losers lost in a world they no longer understand but who are nonetheless inhabited by a thirst for tenderness that makes them invincible. As the world moves ever closer towards the abyss, Daniel and Lucie try to find an escape from world destruction in their love. Despite its delightfully improbable, (inevitably) heterosexual love story, Fishlove sidesteps all the usual clichés associated with procreation and so-called “masculinity”. Indeed, Babinet gives us a character who is wrestling with the absurdities of this socially constructed form of masculinity which encourages us to believe that happiness can only come with fatherhood unfolding within a “standard” heteronormative couple. Daniel gradually becomes aware of this prison, of the absurd battle involved in living a “normal” life, which ultimately can’t bring him the happiness he so desires.

Babinet seems to want to open our eyes to a “different” world, destroying the present one in order to create another without rules, or rather with different, more creative and stimulating rules. The relationship between man and beast is also called into question, analysed and portrayed with a redeeming dose of imagination and creativity. Daniel, a renowned researcher and scientist, allows himself to be overcome by anthropomorphic tendencies which see him interpreting the actions of his protégé, the fish (of the axalotl species) Nietzsche, on the basis of human emotions. A sense of friendship and understanding develops between the two, by far transcending any differences between their species; a deep bond which has no need for words. Fishlove helps us to understand that the disappearance of humankind would also mean the disappearance of an irreplaceable form of beauty and ingenuity. The planet’s diversity (in all its forms: sexual, gender, species …) must be preserved and valorised, because this will be the trait to transform the world into the place of our dreams.

Fishlove is a co-production between Comme des Cinémas (France) and Tarantula Belgique, with international sales in the hands of Indie Sales.

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