Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 14, 2007 7:32 pm 
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A shapeless film about aimlesness

Murderers/Meurtrières tells us what it’s about, and then opens with its two middle-class young women (who turn into drifters and commit murder) smeared all over with blood, wandering to a roadhouse where a woman who thinks they’re injured helps them clean up. The rest of the film is a long flashback showing events leading up to this moment. So we know they’ve killed and it’s only a question of who and how and where and why. The last one is the tough one. Who -- who they are, that is -- isn’t easy to answer either, because it isn’t well answered by the film. One girl, Nina (Hande Kodja) has seen her father suddenly drop dead. She is unhappy, and goes off with a woman who sets her up with friends who own a hotel. She is there for a while and then becomes despondent and is taken to a psych ward. There she runs into Lizzy (Céline Salette), who’s there because of suicide attempts.

Obviously both girls are unstable, perhaps Lizzy, who has temper tantrums, more than Nina, who suffers more from a lack of affect. But everybody else in the ward is far more peculiar (almost to the point of caricature), and Nina and Lizzy are naturally thrown together and then escape together as soon as night falls. For an unclear period of time they then go wandering back to boyfriends or would-be boyfriends, or places they’ve been recently, and then to new places. Their movements become increasingly aimless as they run out of money, food, sleep, and prospects, and they begin getting picked up by men on the road.

The film itself seems to suffer from a lack of affect and from a lack of ability to make its two twenty-something girls specific or real. They are quite ordinary nice looking young women and perhaps that’s the point and then it would be chilling to think they could end up this way. But the trouble is this is fiction and ordinariness isn’t interesting unless it is looked at in a special way. Insofar as they are real the two girls – the two actresses – seem quite ordinary and certainly presentable; this is why young men have been hitting on them and male drivers are eager to pick them up. They are like bait, and when the men begin to fall into the trap and behave badly, the girls arm themselves, and someone is bound to get caught and punished. The motives of the men may differ. Lizzy’s former boyfriend is a young Arab worker named Malik (Shafik Ahmad); he repeatedly tries to get her to go back to the hospital. One young man in a marina even invites them on board his boat, which is a rather unusual one, and tells them all about it. Is he up for a hot threesome, or just being friendly? Who knows?

Murderers suggests a blander and, frankly, emptier, version of Patty Jenkins’ disturbing film Monster, the dramatization of the life of Aileen Wuornos, the highway prostitute turned serial killer, which got Charlize Theron so much recognition for her performance four years ago. Grandperret’s film too follows up on a real-life event which had been worked up as a film idea by the late Maurice Pialat, who died in 2003 and with whom Grandperret worked as an assistant director. The producer is Pialat’s widow.

The French reviews of this drifter story were favorable, especially about the two young actresses. Kodja and Salette indeed are fluid and spontaneious in their roles. But the material is very slight and the filmmakers would have to somehow present it with greater clarity, force, or style to make it truly memorable. In particular one notes how aimlessly and vaguely the two girls’ background stories are sketched in. Unlike a good genre crime story that might present even the most confused ramblings deftly and interestingly, Murderers seems uncertain of where it is going from first to last. Even the ending goes nowhere. It seems likely that the Pialat who made such searching or fresh films as Loulou, À nos amours, Police, Sous le soleil de Satan, and Van Gogh would have produced something more interesting with this material.

Shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York Friday March 9 and at the IFC Center Saturday March 10, 2007. Shown in Un Certain Regard series at Cannes, 2006. Opened in Paris June 28, 2006. No US distributor.

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