The Alliance Française French Film Festival is running in Melbourne from 8 March – 30 March, and our writer in Australia will be covering a selection of the movies being shown. AFFFF is the biggest festival of French films outside of France, and you can see the program and book tickets here.

Overview: A grieving mother finds the people responsible for her son’s death and begins to ingratiate herself into their lives. Pyramide Distribution; 2016; 90 minutes.

Grief and Revenge: Moka is a rumination on motherhood and grief while at the same time being a thrilling story about revenge and justice. Set in Evian, on the Swiss-French border, the movie concerns Diana (Emmanuelle Devos), a mother who has lost her son to a hit and run incident and for whom the police have taken far too long doing nothing. Employing a private detective, she discovers the make of the car involved in the accident and goes looking for the couple responsible. Because Diana isn’t John Wick the story doesn’t involve all guns blazing, but instead is a slow build-up to the moment that Diana is ready to strike, and the anticipation of whether or not she will be able to go through with it when the time comes.

Performances: Devos is incredible in the lead role in Moka. The nature of the story means that she is rarely off screen and she is a magnetic presence. Throughout the movie she wears her grief and exhaustion on her entire body like a shroud, moving slowly and looking on the brink of tears at all times. Much of her best work comes in the scenes when she is alone, watching her prey or stalking them through the city. It is sometimes frustrating to watch her torture herself by talking to the couple, driving their car, or walking through their house. Watching it you wait for the moment when she will explode, but she holds off. She is like a werewolf staring at the full moon but straining to hold in the monster until the last minute. The supporting roles do well, especially Nathalie Baye as Marlène, the woman in Diana’s sights, but they are all window dressing for Devos’ central, electric performance.

Switzerland: Evian, a resort town on a gorgeous Swiss lake, makes a beautiful setting for Moka, though director Frédéric Mermoud shoots it as though we’re seeing it through Diana’s eyes, all washed out and dull. What it was that brought colour and vibrancy to Diana’s world has gone away, replaced with the dull sheen of an old coin.

Overall: Moka is an unpredictable take on an old tale, and goes into interesting places as it zig-zags to the finish. The third-act twist is one I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner, but the breadcrumbs leading to it were subtle enough that it didn’t feel forced and came as a nice cherry on top of a tight, gorgeously acted thriller.

Grade: B+

Featured Image: Pyramide Distribution