Charlotte and Max live with their young son in Brussels. When Max finds out Charlotte has been taking some of her male patients to a rented apartment, their relationship is put to the test. Charlotte agrees to go to therapy and is forced to stop working as a doctor. When they move to India because of his work, both seem happy again, at least initially. For it appears that their past has not been completely laid to rest.
In the oblique and daring opening to Nanouk Leopold’s atmospheric “The Brownian Movement”, Charlotte, a young mother who seems happily married, secretly rents a sparsely furnished apartment. Sensing what might be happening, the agent winks at her and tells her the bed is new. Soon enough, Charlotte returns with a string of men, each of them overtly flawed in some way. As she begins to invite more men to her room, she runs a greater risk of being exposed.
A portrait of desire, “The Brownian Movement” explores the extent to which our own needs remain a mystery to us. (The title is another term for the theories around the random movement of particles in air or fluids.) Asked by a court-appointed psychiatrist to explain her behavior, Charlotte can only stumble through a vaguely worded, elliptical description of her relationship with Max, her successful architect husband. Once he finds out about her activities, Max begins to wrestle with his doubts about her fidelity and we begin asking questions about control and tradition. Max’s suspicions are elevated by her leaving the house – even when she’s merely going for a walk.
Leopold’s approach to her characters and events in her story skillfully balances two seemingly incompatible elements. Visually, “The Brownian Movement” is often told with the rigor of a Chantal Akerman film – the camera usually remains static, forcing us to probe each image for meaning and significance. Conversely, the film boasts the sensitivity of a young Agnés Varda, relying on a languorous, sensual rhythm. In a very real sense, Charlotte’s behaviour combines both random events and distinctive, traceable patterns, much like the theory the film alludes to in its title. Yet, beside the cerebral elements, the film is emotionally affecting and troubling, in no small part because of the transfixing and courageous performance by Sandra Huller as Charlotte.