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Watch Noémie Merlant’s Sweaty #MeToo Ghost Story

“Watch Online Noémie Merlant’s Sweaty #MeToo Ghost Story”

“Noémie Merlant’s Sweaty #MeToo Ghost Story”

For crisp tension or thematic clarity, nothing in “The Balconettes” quite outdoes the nearly self-contained, minutes-long short that opens actor-director Noémie Merlant‘s frenzied, heatstruck genre mashup. On a 115-degree summer afternoon in a wilting, AC-challenged Marseilles apartment block, a put-upon middle-aged wife passes out on her balcony. Roused with a splash of water by her boorish husband, who demands she get back to her chores, the poor woman breaks: Getting to her feet, she whacks him unconscious with a steel dustpan, smothers him with a towel, and sits on him for good measure until all life seeps out of his body. With not a scrap of backstory required, this immensely satisfying vignette earns the film an early round of cheers.

That’s the last we see of this character’s plight, save for a brief shot later of her being led away from the building by police. (Cue some boos to complement the earlier cheers.) Instead, “The Balconettes” pivots to a neighboring apartment, where a younger trio of women take extreme action in the face of unacceptable male behavior. Their rather more complicated story isn’t as tight or as viscerally pleasing as the miniature tale of woe that precedes it, but the willful illogic of Merlant’s second outing behind the camera — following 2021’s similarly shaggy road movie “Mi Iubita Mon Amour” — is more or less its point. Almost all the film’s plotting is propelled by the kind of sun-drunk midsummer madness that fuels bad snap decisions and worse outcomes, and that’s before things take a turn for the supernatural.

Merlant, the generally poised, watchful star of films like “Tár” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” wrote “The Balconettes” in collaboration with the latter’s director Céline Sciamma — not herself a filmmaker typically associated with this kind of kooky, cult-seeking comedy. (It’s premiering, aptly enough, in Cannes’ reliably oddball Midnight section.) But the directorial energy being channelled here is closer to that of early Pedro Almodóvar, as Merlant piles up saturated, hot-hued melodrama, garrulous female bonding and cheerful lashings of blood and sex. The most eye-catching character here, Souheila Yacoub’s flagrantly sex-positive, flamboyantly accessorized cam-girl Ruby, feels drafted in from a Planet Pedro ensemble, albeit with a Gallic spin.

Ruby shares a messy boho-chic apartment with Nicole (Sanda Codreanu, resembling a French Rachel McAdams), a rather more shy aspiring author, while their actress pal Élise (Merlant) appears to stay there more often than not, despite having a clingy husband, Paul (Christophe Montenez), in another city. Merlant’s script never quite sells us on why these three disparate women are close friends, but they make for a high-energy trio, activated the moment Élise arrives at the apartment — still in platinum Marilyn Monroe drag from her current movie shoot, another Almodóvarean detail — in an anxious flap over Paul, whose non-stop phone calls are bordering on harassment. In her mania while driving over, she dinged the precious vintage car of Magnani (“Emily in Paris” heartthrob Lucas Bravo), the hunky photographer across the street, whom Nicole has been wistfully mooning over from the balcony.

Ever-outgoing Ruby settles the situation with Magnani, even scoring the three women an invitation to his apartment for drinks. Once they arrive, however, it becomes clear, to Nicole’s consternation, that he only has eyes for Ruby. (Given her signature style, which entails a lot of bared flesh and baroquely ornate makeup with appliqué sequins, she tends to command attention.) The other two withdraw — a mistake, they realize, when Ruby returns to their place catatonic and smeared with blood, having accidentally (and most gorily) killed him when he attempted to rape her. Certain the police won’t see it that way — all men here come in flavors of scum and scummer — the friends team up to dismember and dispose of the body, with escalatingly farcical results.

That’s already enough plot for “The Balconettes” to be getting on with, but there’s more, as Paul chases down Élise, who turns out to be unexpectedly pregnant, while Nicole is startled to see Magnani’s bemused ghost in his apartment. Turns out the mousy writer has possibly the most unwelcome sixth sense imaginable: She sees dead people, but specifically only dead male abusers, which, as the film hurtles on, turns out to be a very crowded spiritual realm. This is he least well-development strand in a cluttered narrative, but the film’s maximalism means it can afford to miss here and there without breaking its swaggering stride. The same goes for its scattershot comedy, which ranges from the perversely dark to the frankly juvenile. A running gag around Élise’s stress-induced flatulence doesn’t even score the first time, but there are enough laughs here to keep the momentum going.

Still, “The Balconettes” is most effective when it breathes, pauses and takes things seriously for a moment — as in that taut opening sequence, or in a hotel-room reconciliation between Élise and Paul that goes unnervingly awry, proving the different forms that sexual assault can take. The palpably draining humidity of the setting enhances the desperation of such scenes: Evgenia Alexandrova’s roving camerawork always feels suitably fevered and burnt with color, beginning with a vertiginous flight across the assorted balconies of the residential avenue where the action kicks off. It’s a shot that briefly teases a more disciplined film, perhaps one taking a location-bound, “Rear Window”-style approach to matters, offering a mosaic of female crisis glimpsed through windows and balustrades. Discipline, however, is the last thing on Merlant’s mind, and it’s hard to argue with that.

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