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  • Writer's pictureK.B.O'Neil

The Big Bad Wolf has a secret in this modern French Folk Tale

With a blend of humor, spiritualism/ naturalism, romance, and some horrific elements, The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou is a film with no specific genre. Lucas Delangle's French adult fairytale is a blend of Arthouse cinema with an almost found footage or documentary feel in some regards. Written by Lucas Delangle and Olivier Straus and starring Thomas Parigi, Lou Lampros, Edwidge Blondiau, and Jean-Louis Coulloc'h.

Jacky (Parigi) lives with his Grandmother Gisèle (Blondiau) since the death of his parents. As a healer, their shared home is often filled with those seeking help in some form or another. Jacky, when not helping with chores or patients, spends his days making recordings of natural sounds he can use later in his music. His evenings are either spent at the local pub with his best friend or in his room making beats for an audience of one. He has no real direction, but he's content.

When a beautiful young girl, Elsa (Lampros), arrives at their doorstep with her father needing attention for a mysterious affliction, he suddenly finds interest in his grandmother's profession and wants to learn her healing techniques.

The film's first half is light and has a bit of spiritualism/ naturalism mixed with humor. Blondiau as Gisèle is an absolute delight, and despite her fear that her grandson will amount to nothing, her love for him shines through. Her presence in the film is the catalyst that keeps everyone going and upbeat, her energy is infectious. It's excellent character building as we meet the town folk who will be much more significant later. Jacky is torn between two worlds as he's fascinated with his grandmother's healing powers and wonders if the ability is passed down through blood and his desire to run off and become a famous musician. He has a talent for both, but it takes a tragedy and the afflicted Elsa to focus his attention.

As the back half progresses, the tonal change is noticed. There is more of a mystery, as livestock are being slaughtered, but for sport, not food. The towns people can't find the animal responsible for the destruction, and their livelihood is being threatened. The sensuality is built up as Elsa and Jacky continue their treatments together, and the healing intimacy reaches a boiling point. The stakes are raised as Jacky will have to draw on all his power and the teachings of his grandmother to fulfill a promise and make a decision that could get the town he loves to turn on him. Does he follow his heart or his head? And is the decision his to make in the first place?

Though the film's pacing mimics our hero, Jacky, taking its time, moving to the beat of its drum, the flow matches the energy onscreen. As the story progresses, so too do the genres. The narrative has tonal changes, but the story and performances are so captivating that we trust the filmmakers to lead us. The cast is fantastic, with even side characters coming in for a scene and hypnotizing with their monologues. Incredible casting. With minimal but effective special effects, the illusion is in the reactions of the characters or sound designs. So much is done off-screen, but you'd swear you just saw the transition. Same with the level of violence, it's brief and not glorified, but nevertheless still effective to pull the emotion from the audience.

Jacky Caillou is a stunningly beautiful film. Cinematographer Mathieu Gaudet can capture the textures, color, and depth of the locations, making it feel visually like a blockbuster without taking away the lived-in charm of the smoke and beer-stained pub to the wooden shutters covering dirty windows. It doesn't feel production designed, which is the highest compliment, making the film's documentary aesthetic more realistic. There is some real magic happening in the woods; luckily, it was captured on film.

A story about tradition versus progress, Jacky Caillou is a modern folktale. Jacky is torn between honoring his grandma's rituals and heritage or pursuing a life as a DJ in the city. Does he side with the town folk he's grown up with, or does his loyalty lie with the woman who has come seeking treatment? Naturalism or modernity? Actor Thomas Parigi perfectly portrays the inner turmoil of being in this position. His growth and development as a character shine in the film.

Though labeled as "Horror," it's not in any way the traditional sense of what you might expect. The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou is a hybrid fairytale, with all the genres woven into its tapestry. Stunning scenery and locations, subtle but captivating performances, and some genuinely hold-your-breath moments make it such an enjoyable watch. A fresh take on a familiar premise is always welcomed and, when done right, is a breath of fresh air. I expect we'll be getting acquainted with the names of all involved with this one. Don't forget to purge yourself afterward.

The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou is in Theaters (LA, NY) Friday April 7, 2023 and on DVD and DIGITAL April 11. Check out the trailer below.


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