This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Denis Côté loves erratic sound mixing. In his recent body of work, the Quebecois director has been frequently experimenting with different reverberations and mixes; amplifying his rich cinematic canvases with stark interiority. With That Kind of Summer, Côté utilised his invasive soundscape as a prison for his sex-starved characters. The emotional gravitas of That Kind of Summer derives from its subtextual sound-mix — cleverly contrasting erotic images with coarse sound-cues of hair-tugged moans and exhaled exasperations. In continuation with his signature style, Côté returns with another experiential scape. Unlike his previous feature, Mademoiselle Kenopsia is a far more beguiling endeavour.
Mademoiselle Kenopsia demonstrates a rich collage of liminal spaces; ingrained in a niche subculture of back rooms imagery. Côté is obsessed with transitionary spaces; aroused by the sight of cultural decay. Mademoiselle Kenopsia is his melancholic ode to the beauty of unseen spaces. Traversing through the veils of subconscious solitude, we begin to piece together a formless narrative about one woman's internal desperation. The bellowing sounds of past-lived voices haunt the ventilation of the woman's residence. The viewer is forced to listen and distinguish the various opaque intonations, as the picture-edit slowly lulls its audience into a distinct cerebral state. As the walls of the foreboding institute daunt her cleaning routines, Côté supplements ambiguity for emotional conflict. The end result is a frequently frustrating work of improvisational cinema.
The beauty of Mademoiselle Kenopsia derives from its mixed-media collage, implementing languid spoken-word monologues and experimental 16mm projections within Côté's portrait of secluded malaise. In moments of sedated human connection, the film's cinematic detox illuminates the protagonist's interiority. With the limited dialogue, we are given brief existential ruminations told in languid form. Mademoiselle Kenopsia's arguable peak is a lethargic monologue about cigarettes; as serenely performed and written by scene-stealer Évelyne de la Chenelière. As a bi-product of the film's multi-media tidbits, Côté provides his spectator with an influx of thought-provoking abstractions — vocalising ruminations on mortality and nihilism through echoed chambers.
When contrasted with the remainder of Côté's slight cinematic experiment, the lack of specificity within the random narrative chronology detracts from the sensitivity of his philosophical punctuation. When stacked between moments of eerie apathy, the film's stronger dialogue-driven sequences dwindle Côté's lackluster provocations. Even with the purposeful rhythm, the film fails to materialise the monotony and universality of his mundane imitations. Mademoiselle Kenopsia is more interested in its visual grandeur and endless repetition, over its quintessential emotional bearings. A further reworking of the film's connective tissue would improve Côté's cinematic explorations. Beyond the idiosyncratic vignettes, the pre-existing narrative lining wanes the impact of the film's form. A more focused rendition of Côté's impressive liminality-experiment would better demonstrate his talents in capturing a distinct mood.