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Moka (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 18, 2020


MOKA (2016)

Starring Emmanuelle Devos, Nathalie Baye, David Clavel, Diane Rouxel, Olivier Chantreau, Samuel Labarthe, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Marion Reymond, Paulin Jaccoud, Sakir Uyar and Ophélie Koering.

Screenplay by Frédéric Mermoud and Antonin Martin-Hilbert.

Directed by Frédéric Mermoud.

Distributed by Film Movement. 90 minutes. Not Rated.

The basic storyline of the slow-burning French film Moka makes it seem like a revenge thriller – and in many ways, it is indeed that – but it is even more successful as a rumination on devastating loss and grief.

Emmanuelle Devos plays Diane, a Swiss mother whose teen son was killed by a hit and run driver. Months later, she is still prostate with grief, her marriage has broken up, she has checked herself into a sanitarium, but she still has visions of her son nearly constantly.

The police have had no luck in finding the guilty driver – in fact they seem to have stopped looking. Therefore, Diane sneaks out of the sanitorium one night and returns home. She hires a private detective to investigate the case. What he finds is vague and mostly circumstantial, but one witness suggested that a blonde woman and a man driving a tan sports car (the film title refers to the color of the car) who may be across the bay in France. Therefore, she drives over to do her own detective work.

She finds that the car is owned by a salon owner named Marlène (Baye) and her boyfriend Michel (Clavel). After following them around for a few days, eventually Diane slowly starts to insinuate herself into their lives, as well as that of Elodie, her grown daughter from a previous relationship (Rouxel).

Here, the film does something a little subversive. It turns out that Marlène is a very friendly, open, likable person. Diane finds herself drawn to her, not just as a subject of her investigation, but as a friend. Diane has been morose and introverted throughout the film, and surprisingly finds herself coming out of her shell a bit, reintegrating with the outside world.

This shows itself in some good ways (she is able to negotiate a bit of a truce with her ex) and some not so good (she throws herself into a flirtation with a much younger local drug dealer).

In the end, whether or not Marlène is responsible for her son’s death takes on less importance in the plot. (We do find eventually out if Marlène is the guilty party, however I will not spoil that surprise.) Moka is more about Diane finally coming to terms with her mourning and starting to try to move on with her life.

It’s a smart, sensitive decision that makes Moka much more than a generic thriller. Moka’s climax is cuttingly tragic, but it also shows signs of light, growth and hope for Diane.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: June 29, 2017.

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