BINGE-R #32: Hotel Beau Sejour + Friday Night Films
HOTEL BEAU SEJOUR S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
Netflix’s new Belgian drama smartly flips around the trend of female characters only having their complex selves posthumously revealed by those investigating their murder. In the cold open of Hotel Beau Sejour, Kato (the terrific Lynn Van Royen) comes too bloodied on a hotel bed. When she staggers into the bathroom she finds herself lying dead in the bathtub. As some kind of spectral echo, Kato is a ghost in the machine, haunting the world she’s exited and contributing to the plot’s great opening gambit: a handful of people can still see and talk to her.
The episodes move at a slow, grim pace that match the ominous camera pans. There are similarities to the exquisite French horror mystery Les Revenants (which sadly is not currently streaming anywhere), as the return of the dead impacts on the living. “I can still throw up,” Kato tells one of her five seers, her friend Ines (Joke Emmers), after witnessing her own post-mortem, and those she can communicate with include her dissolute father, Luc (Kris Cuppens) and the local police chief, Alexander Vinken (Johan van Assche), whose allegiance is torn because his nephew, Kato’s ex-boyfriend, is an obvious suspect.
Lacking memories of her final night, Kato trails the two female police detectives despatched to run the investigation – their odd dynamic is one of the story’s many curious strands – and tries to uncover her fate. Nothing she does, from riding a motorbike to firing a gun, alters the world for anyone but the seers, and the way she holds her grieving mother or regards those she believes may have wronged her provides a pulse of otherworldly tension. Scenes that might play one way, such as Kato’s divorced parents and her stepfather planning her funeral, have an unexpected reversal with her increasingly defiant presence.
You’ll have to be patient with Hotel Beau Sejour, which carefully builds with subtitled English across a faintly odd rural landscape where the local obsession is motocross racing and the scene of Kato’s disappearance was a historic festival. The third episode starts to tie the pieces together, matching the deserted, under renovation hotel where her body was secretly moved from to the first results of DNA testing. And in the conflicted Alexander she has a secret adversary. After one argument he slaps her, out of both frustration and experimentation: neither Alexander nor Kato are sure if she can die again. That’s typical of the show’s secrets – life, death, and then what?
>> Bonus Binge: Netflix also has the distinctly Australian take on the dead mysteriously returning to life genre: Glitch. All six episodes of the ABC drama’s curious conspiracy, which stars Patrick Brammall and Emma Booth, are available to stream.
If you want an undead mockumentary watch…
What We Do in the Shadows (Stan, 2014, 86 minutes): Prior to Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Marvel’s next Thor movie, New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi revealed that share house life isn’t easy for the undead. A group of vampires – played by Waititi and Jemaine Clement amongst other – argue about the chores, go nightclubbing, and feast on their victims’ blood. The comedy sounds like a comedy sketch stretched to breaking point, but it’s so matter-of-fact in how it treats the fantastical that ludicrous laughs ensure. The setting of Wellington gives their rituals a daft underpinning – their annual Bacchanal takes place in the function room at the local bowls club – while there are a series of absurd run-ins with a polite werewolf pack.
If you want a heartfelt modern romance watch…
Her (Netflix, 2013, 126 minutes): Love is life-changing in Spike Jonze’s movies, even if it requires a portal to a movie star’s brain in Being John Malkovich. In Her, a romance that memorably edges the offbeat until it’s deeply poignant, the catalyst is a new artificial intelligence operating system installed by the heartbroken Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix). Sam (voiced with great empathy by Scarlett Johansson), soon inveigles her way into every corner of her owner’s quiet mid-21st century life, measuring her lack of physical form against the brief spark of Theodore’s existence even as they fall in love. Phoenix’s raw emotionality has never been more vulnerable, even while suggesting his character’s selfishness, and the screen accelerant that ties it together is Rooney Mara as Theodore’s ex, Catherine.
If you want a political thriller watch…
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Stan, 2008, 144 minutes): West Germany’s counter-culture protest movement of the late 1960s morphs – via repulsion over their parents’ generation – into the domestic terrorist cells of the 1970s in Uli Edel’s epic take on the former nation’s revolutionary movement. Built around journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), small-time criminal Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtrau), and one-time housewife Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek), the group progresses from bank robberies to bombings, spurred on by an internal dynamic of ideology and ego matches the personal to the political in fascinating ways. Incarceration or death for the first generation simply loosened an emboldened second generation, and the movie’s final scenes reach a crucifying pitch as the decade attains a terminal velocity.
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