Mademoiselle Kenopsia: Who Is In There?
Review by Maurie Alioff
(September 15, 2023 – Toronto, ON) A TIFF regular, who has screened at Cannes and frequently the Locarno Film Festival, Denis Côté couldn’t make Tiff 2023 because he’s recovering from a kidney transplant. At a screening of his latest low budget, unconventional film, Mademoiselle Kenopsia, he introduced the movie via video he shot himself. Frank about what he’s been through recently, Côté says that his latest is more about atmosphere than narrative, but that’s not entirely true.
The movie does open with a very long hold on a vacant, derelict space. Another room is dominated by fluorescent light and the noise it makes. Côté transitions to montages of more empty spaces, and eventually shadows, light moving on walls, and an industrial hum. He focuses on a dismantled door, peeling paint, a tree through window (one of the few glimpses of nature), and so on. The images become evocative abstract art, both seductive and unsettling.
Mademoiselle Kenopsia (Côté regular Larissa Corriveau) is at first the only occupant of the abandoned whatever-it-is. She wanders around examining the rooms, the shadows, some kind of electrical energy sparking on a door. For much of the film, she talks on one of several phones to a person or entity, perhaps some kind of authority. Her monologues recall Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice (La Voix humaine) in which a young woman dumped by a lover talks on a telephone about her suicide attempt.
With a fixed gaze, Mademoiselle Kenopsia tells her listener that the booming sounds we hear might be the “wind inside.” She philosophizes with one idea tumbling after another. Life is like a thriller trailer that moves too slow, she says. She wants to fast forward to 2050 and see what happens.
Is anybody listening? Who is she talking to? Is the wind a hallucination? Is she? If the place is haunted, is she the ghost? Did Côté make a movie from the “pov of a sad ghost in The Shining?” as a Tiff interviewer said in a Q and A.
Clues do suggest that Mademoiselle Kenopsia is a spirit. “I don’t have access to everything,” she says at one point. (A ghost wouldn’t.) She also believes people only remember a few highlight moments from life. The rest is To Do lists. “It’s as if the spaces don’t want us to leave,” she says. Each new person that comes in is like a fresh coat of paint.
In fact, other people do show up. An elegantly dressed woman needs a light for cigarette and talks about passion. In a comic episode, a tradesman on a ladder installs a video camera. “They” told him to do it. Mademoiselle Kenopsia stares at him to the beat of a techno track and the words, “You are magnificent inside me.” Eventually, the guy fixes a doorknob and evaluates the space for possible renovations! Is there a toilet, he asks. No, she answers. As for her body functions, “I have my ways.”
Whatever is real or unreal in Denis Côté’s movie, it embeds itself in your consciousness, a mind-altering meditation. You close your eyes for a second, and you see your own spaces and phantoms.
Images courtesy of TIFF 2023. Click here to watch the trailer and learn more about Mademoiselle Kenopsia.
Maurie Alioff is a film journalist, critic, screenwriter and media columnist. He has written for radio and television and taught screenwriting at Montreal’s Vanier College. A former editor for Cinema Canada and Take One, as well as other magazines, he is affiliated with the Quebec media industry publication, CTVM.Info. His articles have appeared in various publications, including Canadian Cinematographer, POV Magazine, and The New York Times. He is the Québec Correspondent for northernstars.ca.