Emmanuelle Devos as Diane in Moka (Film Movement)

The title of director Frédéric Mermoud’s drama comes from the striking coffee-color of a vintage Mercedes. For Diane (Emmanuelle Devos), the car represents complete destruction of her life; a vehicle fitting this description struck her son in a hit-and-run accident that left him dead. Determined to find those responsible for the accident, Diane undertakes a solitary mission for retribution. However, this psychological thriller becomes less about revenge and more about a mother’s confrontation with loss and grief.

There are only a few such cars located near her Swiss bordered town of Lausanne. Independent of her concerned ex-husband or the police, she hires a private investigator to determine who was involved. Based on her own detective work, she concludes it belongs to a couple, Marlène and Michel (Nathalie Baye and David Clavel), who live in the French town of Évian, across Lake Geneva. The car, she notices in their driveway, is for sale and has recently had some work done.

While she aggressively tries to the purchase the car from Michel, Diane simultaneously strikes up a friendship with Marlène, who runs a local beauty shop. Diane pretends to be Hélène, a novelist working in the resort town in need of a makeover. As she gets to know Marlène, her agenda becomes less straightforward: Marlène has a daughter (Diane Rouxel), who’s struggling to find her way in life, and Marlène’s relationship with the younger Michel is less than perfect. Though Diane purchases a gun from a handsome young local drug dealer, Vincent (Olivier Chantreau), with whom she also becomes close, she develops a kinship with her prey that complicates her need for revenge. Diane has the means to enact violence on those she believes killed her son, but the more she learns about Marlène’s life, the more complex the situation becomes.

Moka moves slowly, allowing the audience to understand Diane’s deep grief, and Devos delivers an arresting performance. The first six minutes are dialogue-free, but Diane’s emotional wounds are so clearly evident—Baye also gives a powerhouse performance. The car becomes a character, too; often the focus of the camera, the coffee-color stands out in the blues and greys of the Évian backdrop. Marlène is also often dressed in brown and camel-colored clothing. For Diane, Marlène and car represent that which destroyed her life, but in both instances, she is also driven to a more complete understanding of their role in her son’s death. She’s drawn to Marlène’s life, just as she craves to hold ownership over the car that killed her son.

Moka is a psychological thriller that focuses less on the thriller element. While the audience is consistently unsure whether or not Diane is capable of committing murder, the film’s tension relies more on her journey through her pain than any calculated plan. The ending contains some twists and surprises, but ultimately it is about a mother in agony, searching for any avenue of relief or justice she can find. Those who enjoy a good, slow-burn mystery with a bit of a twist will be satisfied. But, much more rewarding, are Moka’s stylish filmmaking and killer performances.

Directed by Frédéric Mermoud
Written by Mermoud and Antonin Martin-Hilbert, based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay
Released by Film Movement
France/Switzerland. 89 min. Not rated
With Emmanuelle Devos, Nathalie Baye, David Clavel, Olivier Chantreau, and Diane Rouxel