What if the dead came back but weren't rotting cannibals, in a never-ending search for flesh and brains? What if they came back as themselves, a little slower, a little quieter, but more or less the same? Would you want them back? If they had died the day before, probably. But what if it had been a year, or five years, or ten? What if you had moved on?
Les Revenants, directed by Robin Campillo, opens with a stream of people walking from the cemetery of a small town, heading down the main street. They look like you or me, but seem a little dazed. Then the film cuts to a meeting of the town council, where emergency measures are being taken to figure out just how to deal with all those returning. The mayor (Victor Garrivier) is summing up the situation: these returnees have rights just like the living, and they're probably going to want their old lives back. But how can this surplus population be integrated back into society?
The film focuses on three main relationships. The mayor's wife Martha (Catherina Samie) is one of the returnees. The mayor is unsure what to think, but feels honor-bound to take care of her. One of the mayor's aides, Isham (Djemel Barek) and Isham's wife, Véronique (Marie Matheron), anxiously rush to the place where the dead are being gathered for identification, to find their 6 year old son, Sylvain (Saady Delas). Another town employee, Rachel (Géraldine Pailhas), refuses to even go find her dead lover Mathieu (Jonathan Zaccai).
Les Revenants explores the question of how one would deal with this situation in a thought-provoking way. The dead aren't quite right, and have some difficulty meshing with the living, although the living feel obligated to make them feel at home again. But the movie isn't just an intellectual exercise; the stories of the characters draw you in. At the same time, the movie slowly reveals that the dead have secrets, creating an atmosphere of suspense and apprehension.
This movie is a refreshing change from the typical gut-muncher. The first time I watched it I made the mistake of watching late at night, and I have to confess I nodded off. The friends I was watching it with said it was worth watching again, so I gave it another chance, and I'm glad I did. There isn't much action, so be prepared to have to pay attention, but the investment of time is worth it.