Domain (2009) DVD Review: A Magnetic Lead Performance Saves a Muddled Script

Béatrice Dalle’s extraordinary ability to sensually descend into madness will be forever enshrined in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue, a film that wouldn’t have one-tenth the magnetic pull without her. Dalle’s performance is similarly the centerpiece of Patric Chiha’s Domain, a moody, uneven relationship study — and the similarities don’t end there.

The film revolves around the relationship of Dalle’s Nadia, a brilliant but unstable mathematician, and her 17-year-old nephew Pierre (a nicely natural Isaïe Sultan). Pierre is just beginning to embrace his homosexuality, and his increasingly devoted relationship to Nadia never dips into overtly inappropriate territory. But the incestuous intimations are there — if not physically then psychologically, and Dalle’s slightly exaggerated features draw the viewer in just like they do Pierre.

Despite parental disapproval and invitations from more contemporaneous friends, Pierre begins to spend any free moment with Nadia, taking long walks through the park, going for drinks at cafes and dancing at a gay club where a halting, direct-to-the-camera musical interlude from a performer (stage name: Joan Crawford) is one of the film’s left turns into outright camp.

Throughout their many conversations, Nadia regales Pierre with tales of former lovers and mathematical philosophies inspired by Kurt Gödel. For her, mathematics is a way to bring order to an inherently disorderly universe, but any sense of outward stability — from math or otherwise — soon begins to unravel for Nadia.

Chiha’s thematic insistence on the plot’s relation to mathematics is specious at best, and Nadia is never a convincing philosopher, but as alcoholism begins to ravage her body and her once-solid relationship with Pierre sees him begin to drift away, the film comes into its own anyway.

Dalle is a formidable screen presence early in the film when her confidence and control make her irresistibly attractive to Pierre, but she becomes even more commanding when her character loses almost any semblance of control and is relegated to an Austrian rehab clinic to dispel her drinking problem. Without this caliber of a performance at its center, Domain would likely be too meandering and undeservedly heady to sustain much interest.

The Strand Releasing DVD features a decent presentation, although it’s difficult for standard definition to adequately display the film’s numerous low-light and shadowy scenes, which are often awash in murky details and compression artifacts. There also seems to be a problem with the disc’s authoring, as a scene in the final act features a brief but prominent digital hiccup. The disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer, along with trailers for a number of other Strand releases.

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Dusty Somers

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