What can happen when the passion for revenge takes over a woman’s life? Such is the engrossing theme of “Moka,” directed by Frédéric Mermoud from a novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, and starring two actresses always worth watching, Emmanuelle Devos and Nathalie Baye.
Diane (Devos) is devastated by the loss of her teenage son, Luc, who was killed when struck by a car in a road accident. The driver sped from the scene and has never been found by police. Diane, who sneaks out of a sanitarium, where she was apparently being treated for her emotional upset, returns to her home in Lausanne, Switzerland. She is consumed with a mission—finding and bringing to justice the hit-and-run driver, reported to have been a woman with blonde hair. The detective hired to help is seeking clues.
This is a commitment she pursues on her own. Her husband, Simon (Samuel Labarthe) tries to persuade her to count on the police eventually having success. But Diane is resolute. There comes a break in the case. The detective has located four Mercedes cars that could have hit Luc. Diane drives around to seek the right auto. She finally fixes on a mocha colored Mercedes in Évian, France, and observes the owner, Michel (David Clavel) and his partner Marlène (Baye). Diane notices some repaired damage to the front of the vehicle, which is for sale, and buys it from Michel. Marlène, a blonde, owns a beauty salon. Convinced that Marlène is the guilty driver, Diane inserts herself into Marlène’s life. The two become friends, although Marlène is suspicious about all the questions Diane asks, yet confides that she believes her Michel may be having an affair.
Meanwhile, Diane meets a young drug dealer, Vincent (Oliver Chantreau), whom she finds attractive and invites for a drink. While the possibility of sex seethes in fitful encounters, Vincent gets her what she is really after-- a gun. Thus armed, she is ready to take justice into her own hands.
All of the above is suspenseful teasing for what develops in film noir fashion. Director Mermoud carefully leads the narrative to a complex climax. You may have your suspicions as the film moves along about where the truth lies. What we are not allowed to lose sight of is that Diane is a resourceful, determined protagonist, but also has inner humanity that governs her behavior. Devos captures the complexity of Diane’s charachter perfectly, with the aid of a moment of screenplay gimmickry.
“Moka” is a film that can stealthily and entertainingly keep you on edge, and the director, his stars and the supporting cast combine to achieve that goal, even if you might find some of what happens a stretch. A Film Movement release. Reviewed June 16, 2017.