(Les Amants criminels)
In his debut feature film SITCOM, ascendant filmmaker François Ozon
mixed the conventions of a sex farce with those of television comedy and
soap opera to craft a fascinating if flawed examination of an oddball family.
With his second full-length film, LES AMANTS CRIMINELS (CRIMINAL
LOVERS), the writer-director boldly crosses the mythic overtones of an
archetypal fairy tale with classic film noir. The result is compelling,
engrossing and surprising
From the first frame, Ozon is clearly in charge of the material. Teen
temptress Alice (Natacha Regnier, the award-winning co-star of
THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS) is performing a striptease for her boyfriend
Luc (Jérémie Renier) who is blindfolded. Immediately, the dynamic of the
relationship is established: Alice emerges as manipulative and
domineering while Luc is seen as passive and disengaged. (He is not in
the least aroused by her machinations.) Alice persuades him to prove
his love by helping her kill an Arab classmate, the handsome, haughty
Saïd (Salim Kechiouche). Alice is both attracted and repelled by Saïd and
she plies her feminine wiles on both boys, setting the stage for the
Once they have committed the crime, the pair set off to the woods
to dispose of the body, which proves more difficult than imagined,
especially after Alice and Luc get lost in the woods. Hungry and tired, they
stumble upon a cabin and like two of the Three Bears they enter and
help themselves to food. Like Hansel and Gretel, the duo find themselves
caught and held captive, not by a witch but by an eccentric woodsman
(Miki Manojlovic) who had witnessed them burying the body. He imprisons
Alice and Luc in his rat-infested cellar (where he has also placed Saïd's
body) and then learns the details of the crime by reading Alice's diary.
Ozon plays with audience expectation by shifting from a more
realistic tone to the more fanciful world. The ostensible villains now
invoke sympathy for their plight at the hands of the woodsman who
seemingly plans to kill and eat them. The beauty of Ozon's script and
direction is that CRIMINAL LOVERS functions on several levels, paying
homage to "lovers on the run" films (like BONNIE AND CLYDE or
BADLANDS), the typical noir female (perhaps best embodied by Barbara
Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY), the teen film genre and even Bruno
Bettleheim's study of children's literature The Uses of Enchantment: The
Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.
Such an eclectic mixture shouldn't necessarily work, but for the
most part it does. CRIMINAL LOVERS is a more assured work than
SITCOM. Ozon's main weakness as a filmmaker is his inability (or
unwillingness) to overcome his reliance on genre conventions as a means
of propping up weaknesses in the script. There are occasional, jarring
gaps in logic that Ozon expects the audience to accept merely because
he invokes the mythos of fairy tales and employs attractive visual
flourishes. His astute use of flashbacks to flesh out the back story and
add psychological depth and the superlative work of the cast also work
to hide the flaws of the film.
Natacha Regnier is superb as the scheming, seductive Alice. She
plays against her blonde angelic looks to create a truly scary creature --
a young woman driven by boredom and fantasy. It is she who enjoys the
thrill of the hunt and taking charge until things start to go awry, at which
point she exhorts Luc to "be a man." Jérémie Renier has perhaps the more
difficult role, playing an essentially passive type who eventually assumes
those qualities that Alice possesses in order for them to survive.
Manojlovic is appropriately creepy as the woodsman.
Ozon is still in the early stages of his career. CRIMINAL LOVERS
marks a fine step forward in his development as a filmmaker.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.