Review: Moka

Emmanuelle Devos in “Moka.”
Emmanuelle Devos in “Moka.”

Hélène (Emmanuelle Devos) stalks the woman she believes is responsible for her son’s death in an unsolved hit-and-run. Her suspicion is fueled by little more than that her target drives a mocha-colored car like the one witnessed at the scene.

Has there ever been a genre as abused as the revenge thriller? Since Edmond Dantès broke out of prison on the silent screen, the revenge film has been twisted into every possible shape, combined with every possible genre and ransacked by every talentless director in and out of Hollywood. It’s a minor miracle, then, that “Moka” has anything to offer at all.

As compact and no-nonsense as the brown vintage car of the title, “Moka” has no time for the fantasy of “I Spit on Your Grave” or the plot complications of “Mystic River.” Director Frédéric Mermoud sees revenge is a joyless obsession. At no point does Hélène seem to believe that destroying her son’s killer will bring justice or even pleasure – deprived of any other reason for living, she’s simply compelled toward vengeance. We’re drawn a convincing portrait of Hélène’s barren, mirthless internal life, and this is what makes “Moka” so personal and vivid, despite the familiarity of its premise.

“Moka” is an eerie, poignant film that rejuvenates the revenge thriller by stripping it to its basics.