Animal Heart played on DVD in one of the ‘satellite venues’ of the Bradford International Film Festival at the Playhouse in Ilkley, a theatre space used as a digital cinema by the Ilkley Film Society. Ilkley is a genteel small town in Yorkshire and I’m not sure what the audience made of this quite brutal story of rural marital strife – but I’m sure that they admired the quality of the filmmaking.
In many ways Animal Heart is a traditional and familiar story. Paul is a farmer in the high mountain country with a mixed livestock farm. He sends cow’s milk to the dairy and makes cheese from goat’s milk (or rather Rosine, his wife, makes cheese). He also has horses, pigs and chickens, but he treats most of his animals better than he treats Rosine. We read the signals early on that she is not well but he assumes that she is pregnant. Having a son seems his only concern. The necessary agent of change comes in the form of Eusebio, a Spanish farmworker who he hires for the summer. Thereafter the plot is not totally predictable. There isn’t a strong narrative. Instead, this is a film about the three characters and as such it works very well. The mountains are both majestic and inhospitable, the performances are very good (especially the farmer’s dog) and all the technical credits are excellent. The three lead actors are very experienced. I don’t mind watching films on DVD projection, but as one local film society member suggested, the film would have looked even better on a huge screen on film.
The director and co-writer is Séverine Cornamusaz and this is her first feature after training in New York and returning to Switzerland to make shorts. The film was financed by Swiss television and various public funds – including the French film agency, CNC, (it was made in the canton of Vaud in the French-speaking region of Switzerland). The script is based on the novel Rapport aux bêtes by Noëlle Revaz. I’m not sure if there is a generic hill farmer type across all of European literature but Paul did seem recognisable from other films – though perhaps not as extreme (he doesn’t seem to believe in medical care for humans and routinely uses the first-aid kit designed for animal welfare). Coeur Animal has won several prizes at festivals, but I don’t know of any plans to release it in the UK.
There is a high quality trailer here. This gives a sense of the locale and the shifting tones of the film, but also confuses a little and doesn’t show the brutality.