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"Domain": Dependence Overshadows Charm 

Wednesday, Feb 1 2012

Fearless Béatrice Dalle, who made her screen debut at age 21 as the sexed-up, self-mutilating title character in Betty Blue (1986), has, in the past decade, played a cannibal, the Queen of the Northern Hemisphere, and a fetus-snatcher. As Nadia in Patric Chiha's hypnotic first feature, Domain, Dalle might have a more cerebral profession — a mathematician who specializes in Gödel — but her capacity for destruction, both of herself and others via bottomless glasses of Vouvray, remains just as infinite. "Words are disorder," the magnetic intellectual announces — one of the many insights that draw her 17-year-old nephew, Pierre (Isaïe Sultan), to her. Forgoing peers his own age, Pierre joins his Ungaro-clad aunt for Saturday strolls in the park, at nightclubs where, in the film's best set piece, the mixed gay-straight crowd dances with dreamlike slowness, and at cafés where Nadia's alcoholism unleashes her lacerating tongue. As his aunt's dissipation eclipses her charm, Pierre starts to respond to the blond, bearded hunk who has been cruising him for weeks. Dalle, with a mouth that could devour the world, unravels inexorably but with decadent dignity, and Chiha's singular film never relies on cliché in its examination of illness, disappointment, and abandonment.

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Melissa Anderson

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