Reviewed at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
The steamier side of sympathizing with your captor gets showcased in “In Your Hands,” a guilty pleasure of a Gallic drama that’s the second feature from writer/director Lola Doillon (the daughter of filmmaker Jacques Doillon). Kristin Scott Thomas, demonstrating once again her ability to act just as dexterously in French as in English, plays the brittle Anna Cooper, an aloof surgeon who lives for her work, and lives alone in Paris. At the film’s outset, she’s hurriedly making her way back to her chic apartment, looking distressed and starting at the smallest sounds. Home, she plugs her drained phone in order to check her voice mail. She was abducted and held prisoner for days, but none of the messages — from her mother, from her boss at the hospital, from her married lover — are concerned or urgent. No one noticed she was meant to have come home from vacation days ago.
Anna, we see in a flashback that comprises the majority of the film, was kidnapped by Yann Ochberg (Pio Marmaï) — Frank Ochberg being the name of the psychiatrist who defined Stockholm syndrome — a good-looking wreck of a young man whose life fell apart after the death of his wife a few years ago. She died following a Cesarean section performed by Anna, who the court cleared of all fault, but on who Yann has placed all blame. The icy Anna never showed up to the hearing.
Yann has no plan in place. “I want to hurt you, but I don’t know how,” he tells his hostage, who he keeps locked in a small room whose one window has been bricked up, but he’s not a man capable of murder or premeditated violence. The power struggle between Yann and Anna is waged over small humiliations and small rebellions. Anna refuses to eat. Yann taunts her about her bedraggled state and how she looks in his old clothes. She ignores him, and he intrudes on whims to threaten her or tell her what she did to his life. But Yann is, more than anything else, crazily lonely, and Anna in her more intentional solitude (her ex husband has remarried and has three kids with someone else) is also vulnerable to the need for company. After an explosion of alcohol-fueled brutality, the pair reach a detente, and then something more amorous.
At a trim 80 minutes, “In Your Hands” skips along in staccato scenes, keeping the sense of time passing vague, but never lingering long enough to make either the progression of Yann and Anna’s relationship nor what happens once Anna is free very plausible. Still, the simmer between relative newcomer Marmaï and Thomas is formidable. Ochberg, a long-lashed, sad-eyed bundle of anger and neediness, can’t help but be ridiculously romanticized — like Anna, we want to read his occasional kindnesses as indicators of a good, if wounded, heart, and brush over his less forgivable actions as driven by sorrow and grief. While abrupt, “In Your Hands” does summon the giddy, logic-free airlessness of life immediately following a trauma, mainly through the strengths of its two talented leads.
“In Your Hands” (Contre Toi) does not currently have U.S. distribution.