The Girl by the Lake

Italian Art House Mystery

Jul. 21, 2010
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It’s not just the body of a teenage girl found near the water that will remind some of us of “Twin Peaks.” The Italian film The Girl bythe Lake (out on DVD) unfolds in a small town nestled amid mountains and woods, an idyllic setting for a mysterious crime. Like Agent Cooper in “Twin Peaks,” the outside police investigator sent to the remote village finds much sordidness and suspicion beneath the charming façade. The conceptual differences come down to this: The Girl by the Lake never crosses into the uncanny. And if director Andrea Molaioli shares David Lynch’s bizarre sense of humor, the joke is lost in translation.

Beautifully filmed in rhythmic ellipses that introduce characters, settings and scenarios in discrete but coherent blocks of footage, The Girl by the Lake has more to offer than lovely scenery and solid acting. The police commissioner, a weary and sad-eyed man with troubles of his own, is initially called to town to find a missing little girl, who turns up with an odd story about Mario, the amiable developmentally disabled man who took her to the lake and told her a story about the snake who dwells in its depths. When the commissioner visits Mario, he discovers the body of the teenage Anna on the shore, partly covered by Mario’s coat. When questioned, Mario mentions that his embittered, partly paralyzed father hated Anna “because she has long, slim legs.”

Anna was a star athlete, the baby sitter who calmed the most difficult children, beloved by all. But the commissioner suspects that Anna’s father might have been a touch too fond of his little girl. And Anna’s boyfriend, the village’s disaffected youth, manages to make himself a prime suspect with his bad attitude. The list of people with dark secrets and no alibis is long.

Based on a murder mystery novel by Karin Fossum, The Girl by the Lake raises questions about whether we can ever really know the people we are closest to, much less total strangers. The commissioner is always worried about making a mistake that could cost someone many years of freedom, yet he has the confidence to pursue his intuition wherever it leads. Unlike Agent Cooper, however, a dwarf doesn’t guide him in his dreams.


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