The French film “Stéphane” is a different kind of found footage film that invites you to consider the idea of an offer too good to be true.
Stéphane is a French production by filmmakers Timotheé Hochet and Lucas Pastor. With it being a French production, it is filmed entirely in French with English subtitles.
If you are expecting the traditional found-footage style of story where there is the early slow start that suddenly kicks into a higher gear, then you will probably be disappointed. This is found footage in that it is filmed using that style but without the standard closure. And it is not explained how the various strands finally come together.
While I would never encourage you to skip a film due to subtitles — doing so would cause you to miss out on some of the best, most terrifying, and surprising horror the world has to offer — it does pose a unique challenge. Sometimes, you may miss some of the film’s subtle nuances and lose parts of the story.
The movie introduces us to an amateur filmmaker, Tim, who is looking to progress and enter his 4th short film into an upcoming film festival.
His vision is to shoot a contemporary spy thriller using friends to cover a multitude of roles, as you might expect. Whilst setting up a shot, Stéphane, wanders into the shot, apparently oblivious to the film being made. This triggers a conversation between the two.
Stéphane enters and just casually pulls information from Tim while stating he is in that industry, has done stunt work, and can ‘maybe’ provide some special effects for the project. Then Timotheé changes his attitude towards him as he starts to think of how this can improve his situation.
Tim embarks on a journey he isn’t aware of, as Stéphane continues to feed story after story, name-dropping as they make their way to Stéphane’s home.
The basis is their talking as this journey continues, with a continual drip feed of approval and building up of Tim as an apparent visionary genius.
Following subtle and some not-subtle directions, the short film now becomes a WW2 film with a central love story involving a heroic American GI and a Nazi officer. Stéphane conjures up an actress who doesn’t seem able to speak and is kept in a locked dark room overnight.
This hints at a dark turn, but it doesn’t come. It’s almost like it’s a conscious decision to make it this way just to thumb their nose at the traditional story tropes.
Yet, despite the lack of action you might expect, it is tense nonetheless. You can see Tim being dragged further away from his original vision to one where Stephané becomes the star, where the vision is ultimately Stéphane’s.
Through several sequences, we can see how Stéphane can change from charming to hostile, from witty to almost sulking behavior with grim hints of violence to come.
As the production continues, Tim decides that he can do two films, one being the war film, the other a secret documentary on his new film ally, despite being told not to.
Like everything in life, there must be an end, and it’s here that we finally see the film making good on early promises where there is the traditional chase and capture, leading to a final part where Tim must take action to survive with a decision that will affect him for the rest of his life.
This is an effective film about the power of manipulation and how easy it is to get in someone’s head.
We all like to think we are in full control of our thoughts and that every decision we make is a product of our own free will. But no matter how intelligent or strong-willed we are, we can all be manipulated into change, especially if the right carrot is dangled in front of us. It’s often not until it’s far too late that we realize we have been manipulated.
Tim is manipulated by appealing to his ego and the promise of material gain. He hopes to be a successful filmmaker and receive validation for being the great director he believes himself to be.
It’s an impactful story with a lot going for it, and the portrayal of the two main characters drives it forward.
Bastien Garcia as Timotheé nails the part, with Lucas Pastor doing serious work as Stéphane.
Stéphane is often a tense and suspenseful drama, and you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat waiting for something to happen — a jump or shock normally expected with the found footage genre.
However, this is more about tension and psychological manipulation than it is about overt scares or sinister twists. That doesn’t make it bad by any stretch, but it’s important to have the right expectations going in so that you don’t end up disappointed. The film waits until the very last act to reveal its hand, and you’ll need some patience to get there. But, if you are game for settling in for the ride, it’s worth the journey.