Sibyl ★½

“I’m at the heart of every choice.”

With her third film, French director Justine Triet explores the transgression of boundaries. These barriers exist between the home and the workplace, they separate fiction and reality and regulate the flow of memories from the past to the present. With ‘Sybil,’ Triet uses genre as a vehicle for the tragicomic exploration of its titular character. Unfortunately, she delivers a flimsy, unremarkable story of obsession unlikely to reach much further than local cinemas.

The Sibyl of the film’s title, portrayed by Virginie Efira, is a psychologist weaning off her patients to return to her first love of writing fiction. She can’t resist the lure of hysterical patient Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos, perpetually weeping), an up-and-coming actress having an affair with the principal actor of her next project (Gaspard Ulliel), who also happens to be the beau of its director (Sandra Hüller). Unwittingly swept up into Margot’s drama, Sibyl’s demons return to haunt her and challenge her sobriety and the stability of her household. 

Efira is very much on the same wavelength as Triet’s vision. Her Sibyl is composed until she crumbles, presenting a brave face to those that depend on her. Only in the flashbacks with former flame Gabriel (Niels Schneider) does she drop her guard and surrender herself completely, and her wild behavior in the throes of that young love set a precedent for future behavior.

As a thriller about obsession, ‘Sibyl’ isn’t nearly lurid enough to satisfy. It’s unsuccessful in reveling in the genre’s delicious style, withTriet shooting the film in the flat house style of popular French cinema. The location shooting on the small island of Stromboli off the north coast of Sicily is a waste. Indeed, the only space in the film that registers is Sibyl’s claustrophobic apartment: its scarlet red walls shrink a space-starved for natural light and densely populated with books and other bric-a-brac. The domestic space is one of many insights into our protagonist’s inner-workings: her anxious vaping, an uneasy bond with her clingy sister, the routine of her AA meetings. But these hints don’t resonate, betrayed by Triet’s meandering, tonally unfocused construction. Margot’s only other remaining patient, a young boy processing the trauma of his mother’s death, remarks: “I don’t understand your mind.” Triet’s film might lay clues to navigate Sibyl’s thoughts, but ultimately, we don’t understand either.