Writer/director Martin Saulnier’s (co-written with Jean Boileau) THE LINE is, for my money, the perfect way to do science fiction—long form or short, but this being short form the impact is all the more concentrated and profound. The immersion is full, the terms straddling the razor line between concrete and ephemeral—the edges of allegory are skirted but a boundary stays uncrossed, the hint at something larger is kept bottled, a universe pinned and wriggling to the wall. Think something of a cross between the final two episodes of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner (indeed, it is easy to think such with the central character being dubbed Number Six) and a stage-play version of a Terry Gilliam aesthetic (the gloom of Brazil without the freneticness, visual touches of the “future sequences” of Twelve Monkeys) and you’re in the neighborhood of understanding the evocative cinema of The Line: a dystopia denuded of hero or villain, the threat of life and death removed to be replaced with something…well…that is rather the point, though. With Something. Unending. Something to take comfort from or to rebel against, both reactions meaning the same: the Borg versus the Borg (conceptually, of course, as there is no “versus” to be found in this film, which is part of the delight.)
The terms of the narrative are simple. Number Six, one of countless drone-workers standing at assembly line doing…something…flashes of self-consciousness crossing his face as he is constantly instructed (from colored lights and seemingly pre-recorded voice only) that he is to replace some other Unit (Number 344, Number 248 etc.) that has been deactivated. Slight evidences of “violence” at the abandoned station (white puddles on the ground) and images of Number Six, himself, writhing on the ground flit across screen ever-so-briefly as we, the audience, are moved through this nondescript workplace/worldscape (yet, please understand me that while it may be “nondescript” it is more endlessly expressionistic and inspiring of self-induced landscape that detail could provide; I could almost smell the world for all its apparent nothingness). Number Six’s consciousness emerges in the form of mild agitations—why is he the only Unit who can replace the deactivated ones (and why does it matter?); what is meant by “deactivated?”; and does his utility as Replacement inoculate him against this consequence or is it merely arbitrary, words on repeat loop, the same for him as any other?
Well—then of course, after every other rotation has been done, we see just what deactivation is (the same vice calmly intoning that this time Number Six has been deactivated and Number 51 is the only Unit capable of replacing him)…and yet…we do not see. Not to say there is any ambiguity—we see it, we go through it, the process, the Technician character introduced and conversant with the Worker Drone—but like all brilliant sci-fi we are simply opened up to the next layer of thing, a deeper clockwork (if clockwork it be) left to ponder.
Indeed, I found just as much of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine society on display in this brief film: a world so refined as to genuinely be perfect, nothing to do for or against, even the glitches and the rectifications of them an integral part of the “all that is.” The struggle on display in this film is neither cautionary nor cynical—it is a depiction of a specified, even rarified, evolution, nothing arrived at (or so it struck me) by power struggles or predatory one-upsmanship or enslavement (these Units do not seem enslaved—which is a very important part of the feel and the narrative—and the Technician’s do not seem slave-keeper or even controllers) but merely a glimpse of something way far along on some Darwinian arc—the beautiful blankness (no sense of cleanliness or uncleanliness to either the pure white sets or the pitch black sets) of the production design allowing no indication of catastrophe or decay to “blame” for the conditions. This is evolution, both conceptual and physical, peaceful and yet audaciously blood curdling (one can almost hear Hamlet intoning “…a consummation devoutly to be wished…”)
And like all of the greatest sci-fi, the interpretations of the crumbs given to we as audience are endless—fortune tellers bones, tarot cards sun-bleached and not quite readable for all our squinting. For example? The Technicians are women and it is the women who remove the men from the line, announce to them their return to consciousness-less and perform the simple functional adjustment to return them to “almost blank slates” working the line again. Now, in the terms of this world, this is clear gender evolution: the closest to “giving birth, creating life” (female) and “giving raw material, fertilization to the process” (male) that can be found. Even in the brief flash of the Technician (female) slightly besmirched by a speckle of blood (the evidence of physical pain and trespass into the “reactivated” Units flesh) and the words “I so enjoy…” we see perhaps the remaining evidences of sexuality, of intercourse, of coupling, station-to-station—some scrap of reminder at the necessary interaction that keeps the humanity to this all, keeps it from quite being reduced to mechanism, purely (makes it almost important, romantic, not to be acted out against, the work room and technician room now the equivalent of a garden and a private boudoir). Again—no villainy, no superior and subordinated—just a bizarre cross-section, the way a lung could be shown working in tandem with a kidney.
And I would be absolutely remiss as a film critic (indeed as a film lover) if I did not take a moment to simply gush at the actor playing the lead: Christian Laflamme. Never have performed before on camera, this man is able to bring limitless story and depth, excruciating humanity (without any melodramatics or traditional sense of “struggle”) to Number Six. It is absolute beauty to behold the paragraphs and volumes, the poems that the creases of Laflamme’s face reveal, the history inside of history inside of history that (through his performance and features) we understand is stamped forever on these “people” even as they retain nothing but the ghost of a skeleton’s memory of their own specific selves. It is not despair at understanding something has been taken, it is not sadness or even a sense of “the void surrounding one”—no, there really is no name for what it is on Leflamme’s face—which is perhaps the finest and most evocative Special Effect this cinema gives (and lucky to the filmmaker for knowing this fellow): his face is a perfect depiction of a state of emotion, an evolution of human reduction and resilience that honestly does not yet exist: there are maps of everything the film does not show in each whisker of the fellow’s visage. A radiant, understated, unique, and wholly essential film performance—a testament to the necessity of humanity in science-fiction, in and of itself.
Another gem I discovered in competition at the Viewster Online Film fest 3, The Line is transcendent and haunting, a nightmare and a daydream, the unique quiver of terror that truly comes from seeing some prophetic rendering removed from context and time: equally as titillating and horrible whether long ancient or yet to come in futures so forever away as to be rendered imaginary. I cannot with emphasis enough recommend looking in to the film, here: THE LINE
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.