Sébastien Marnier’s The Origin of Evil has a gay character we never meet.
Reintroduced to her long lost family, Stéphane assumes her absent half-brother is dead. That’s how her father speaks of him. Absent. Gone. Dead. But eventually she’ll learn the truth: absent only from their fancy seaside villa, gone only from the family unit, dead only to Serge for being gay and not hiding it.
This is concerning news for Stéphane. After all, she’s a lesbian. Her girlfriend is incarcerated and she chooses not to talk about her. But the deeper she ingratiates herself with her father — whether it’s for love or money — the more likely this secret is to be revealed. The more likely all her secrets are to be revealed.
Stéphane works in a fish packaging plant. The generational wealth that is rightfully hers is also completely foreign to her and the people in her daily life. Not everyone has access to rich parents. Not everyone who has access to rich parents has access to those riches.
This film is filled with commentary on class, incarceration, and family. It’s about where queer people fit into our broken social systems — or, rather, our social systems serving exactly who they were designed to serve. It’s about how women and queer people and poor people cannibalize each other in pursuit of assimilation. It’s about how even death does not alter the hierarchies of the living.
The best thing I can say about The Origin of Evil is I didn’t get any of that while I was watching. It’s obviously about class and incarceration and family, but it’s simply too delicious a viewing experience to inspire any deep thoughts while its plot is hurtling along. The cast is perfectly over-the-top, the score is flamboyant, and Marnier’s expert use of split screen overwhelms with visual and narrative information. Like if Almodóvar directed The Handmaiden, this is a sumptuous treat of a twisted and twisty queer thriller.
Laure Calamy excels as Stéphane in all her various forms. Sometimes she’s a femme fatale, sometimes she’s a rat in a glue trap. Scene by scene her power shifts and she makes that anxiety contagious. The entire supporting cast is delightful as well, especially Dominique Blanc who is unnervingly funny as Stéphane’s stepmom.
This is the best kind of genre filmmaking: smart but not so obsessed with its own intelligence that it forgets to be entertaining. Rather than underline its themes and talk down to its audience, it simply reflects the realities of our world as it tells its story and tells it well.
“Family is the worst thing in the world,” Stéphane’s niece says with the wise sardonicism of a teenage girl. But it’s not family, exactly. It’s the expectations of family. The assumption that pleasing your father is more important than personal identity. The assumption that cruelty is a prerequisite to inherit the wealth our world requires.
Even as queer people praise the possibilities of chosen family, it’s hard not to feel the ache of blood. The Origin of Evil is about that ache. And boy oh boy does it get bloody.