Alain Getty (Laurent Lucas) is an electronics engineer who is currently designing a flying webcam to help with investigating the owner's house via the Internet when they're away from home. He is married to Bénédicte (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who currently stays at their new house while he is the breadwinner, and today, while preparing the salad for tonight's meal she notices the sink has been blocked and the water is not draining away. When Alain returns, he has a look at the plumbing, reluctant to be charged an extortionate fee for calling someone out, and to his surprise finds a small, furry animal in the pipe. He takes it out and puts it in the laundry room, thinking it's dead. But considering the aftermath of what happened when he invited the boss round for dinner, any thoughts of the creature leave his head...
That creature is the lemming of the title, and turns out to be the most easily explained aspect of Dominik Moll's film, here writing with Gilles Marchand. The drama moves glacially through domestic upheaval, barely breaking a sweat but a lot like a swan: above the surface the characters glide around each other, yet below there's a lot of seething activity. It was compared to a David Lynch work, mainly because when it had been released Mulholland Drive had been Lynch's most recent production, and Lemming, like that film, features an identity swap that is never sufficiently explained. Not that what is happening needs an explanation, as you're best advised simply to let the story carry you along.
Actually, thinking about the film too hard breaks its spell, which can be hypnotic despite the occasional bursts of violence that punctuate it, including an attack by that lemming at one point. What really sets the ball rolling is when Alain's boss, Richard Pollock (André Dussollier) arrives late for their dinner with his frosty wife Alice (Charlotte Rampling, and few do frosty quite as well as her). Alice apparently doesn't want to be there, and spends her time throwing grumbling comments at her husband until events build to a head and she throws a glass of wine over him. After pausing to cast demeaning opinions of her hosts, the "model couple", Alice is whisked away and that would appear to be that as far as Alain and Bénédicte's encounters with her go.
But it would be a short film if that were the case, so Alice appears at Alain's workplace and oddly attempts to seduce him, after saying that she only stays with Richard because she wants to be there when he dies. Alain turns her down, so she returns to his home the next day and is warily welcomed in by Bénédicte, who she tells of the seduction attempt - something Alain failed to do. But then she won't leave, so is still there by the evening when Alain gets back, and when he tries to persuade her to leave - oh dear, she does something drastic. Lemming resembles a long dream sequence from other films, only here you're not sure if the protagonist, an increasingly put upon Alain, is really awake or not. The one genuine nightmare sequence is impossible to plot the beginning of, and by the end you're contemplating how much of what you've seen is real and if the climactic murder is in any way justified. Despite all this, Lemming only fitfully engages the emotions, and then mainly when Alain is put into steadily more uncomfortable situations. Music by David Whitaker.