Clermont Review: Crocodile

With films such as City Paradise (Dir. Gaëlle Denis, UK, 2004), French born filmmaker Gaëlle Denis has consistently created worlds filled with magical realism that are tinged with a healthy dose of dourness. Her latest film – a touching and moving examination of grief that is screening in the Clermont-Ferrand international competiton – continues the trend creating a surreal and dreamlike atmosphere that lingers long in the memory.

Middle class headteacher Simon is dealing with the loss of his teenage daughter, killed by a crocodile whilst on a gap year in Kenya. With colleagues at a loss for words as to what to say and a partner directing her anger towards him, Simon begins to drift into a fantasy world as he tries to make sense of his situation. Soon he finds himself trying to deal with the pain, anger and sorrow in the only way that seems to be reasonable.

Crocodile deals with the way in which we process grief and try and make sense of sudden loss. In many ways, the death of Simon’s daughter is completely absurd: the moral equivalent of being landed on by a falling rock whilst out shopping. Certain ways of dying give us something to cling to; “They were ill,” or “They were old”. Here there is nothing of the sort and the absurdity of the circumstances is reflected in the absurdist nature of some of the scenes. Yet even in its absurdity, everything makes sense on an emotional level. A scene in which Simon eats his daughter’s flip-flops on the surface seems completely ridiculous. Yet, as you delve beneath the surface, it speak of a terrible emptiness and desire to try and be at one with anything that was once even a small part of the person that you have lost.

Denis handles the surreal moments well, drifting into something that has a tinge of the hysterical but also an undertone of the desperate and desire to escape a devastating truth. The end in particular is amazingly powerful – a violent catharsis that manages to be grimly satisfying yet devastatingly empty.

The performances – especially from Michael Gould – are also excellent, managing to keep a veneer of control over emotions that are ready to burst forth. Indeed, the film also works as a sly indictment of the peculiar English mentality to keep things in and be unable to talk about anything unless it fits into modes of experience that we have come to expect. The grief is not just caused by death – it’s also caused by a fear of the unexpected.

Aside from winning Best British Short at Encounters, the film also won the Short Film Prize at the Cannes Critics Week in 2014. Already having a relatively healthy presence on the festival circuit, the presence at Clermont and the popularity of Denis’ work should see it continue to be popular at festivals and beyond in 2015.

Title: Crocodile
Director: Gaëlle Denis
Year: 2014
Country: UK
Run Time: 16 mins
Contact: Life To Live Films, Ohna Falby,

02 February 2015, by Laurence Boyce