Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2022 1:38 pm 
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Poetry of madness

There is assurance of style in every frame of this austere, grim movie not unworthy of Dreyer or Bresson. This is a manner that suits the single-minded, devout, intensely troubled young protagonist with a compulsion to kill and equally well a more general theme: poverty in early 1900's France. As with those masters there is a severe, unifying beauty hiding behind the bleakness. Thus the soft autobiographical voiceover is a kind of plaintive song. The whole look of people, clothes, and the real settings is superb. Vincent Le Port, who is 36, using actual texts, has made an impressive feature film debut about this historical person, who, at seventeen, fulfilling a dream (or giving way to a compulsion) that had grown over many years and that he had resisted in vain, murdered and decapitated a boy of thirteen, then turned himself in to authorities.

This event and the desperation of Bruno's thoughts is not shirked but faced head-on by the filmmaker, with distinction. It's mistaken to perceive anything exploitative here. Not excessive but necessary also is these early criminologists and psychologists' extensive explorations of Bruno's sexuality, central to his case. Bruno's hateful, murderous thoughts of other boys date from a very early age. He's taught to masturbate traumatically by a shepherd who sexually molests him. Another primal experience is witnessing the slaughtering of a pig, an annual event of the villagers in Raulhac, in the Cantal in southeastern France where all this transpires. He runs away with hands over ears to shut out the screaming of the pig. Shortly after he hears of a man being killed and realizes that not just pigs, but men can be slaughtered. His hatred of other boys is a kind of violent envy - or desire - and he stimulates himself to masturbate, often many times a day, by imagining violent actions against them.

In the opening frames we glimpse young Bruno Reidal (excellent newcomer Dimitri Doré) committing the murder. From then on the focus is on his relation to a panel of psychologist-criminologists who interview him (this framework is a bit stiff, a convention we must accept). Since he was an excellent student, they ask Bruno to write about himself in prison and the words of this autobiography, spoken by him, form the voiceover for the rest of the film, a series of flashbacks tracing Bruno's life up to the murder and its immediate aftermath. Doré is fine, and also Alex Fanguin, as Bruno at six, and Roman Villedieu, who plays him at ten; and the two younger boys bear a remarkable resemblance to Doré. Also notable is Jean-Luc Vincent as the chief investigator, the memorably mustachioed Professeur Lacassagne, the French pioneer in criminal anthropology.

Bruno is weak, frail, and stunted looking, or seems so at first. The impression must be corrected somewhat, though, because this is no simple example of "failure to thrive." The boy was first in his class, or would be if he'd had better handwriting (it's little and pinched, but spreads smoothly across the page in well-spaced lines). In the last, crucial year of the story Bruno attends the minor seminary school of Saint Flour on a scholarship paid by neighbors of the impoverished farmer family from which he comes (and he is always dressed poorly than any of the other boys, whom he regards as beautiful but also hates. He is a misfit and loner as before, but at Saint Flour, working very hard to control his sexuality (and surely to succeed, to use his intellect), he wins seven prizes and is his happiest. And some of the other boys are friendly to him, notably Blondel (Tino Vigier), who comes to borrow a Latin dictionary during the, for Bruno, very difficult summer vacation, and comes back to go on a scholarly walk. Bruno wants to kill Blondel, but cannot do it. Rather than wait, he chooses a smaller boy, Francois (Tristan Chiodetti), who, also handsome and confident in Bruno's eyes as well as smaller and less able to resist, qualities almost equally well for the deed that Bruno is compelled to do.

All the while Bruno, as played by Doré, expresses himself in a style that's literary, formal, and poetic. It's almost as if he's seeking in speech and writing to reshape his unhappy, distorted intellect into something that, when looked at through words, is transformed into poetry, a killer poem, a poetry of madness and sickness. His devoutness makes him not a bad choice for a seminary. He long considered suicide, he tells his investigators, but chose murder because for that he could repent; after suicide he wouldn't be able to.

Allan Hunter at Cannes (July 13, 2021 ) in [url=""]Screen Daily[/url] saw all the beauty and accomplishment of this severe, off-putting film (which some reviewers imperceptively, if in a way understandably, mistake for exploitative or one-note). Hunter calls this a "riveting debut feature," and praises the way Le Port takes a "true crime case" and changes it into something both "chilling" and "utterly compelling" as a "journey through the mind" of the young killer. He notes the "extraordinary central performance" of newcomer Doré that is essential to the (I'm talking here) soft sweetness of this troubled, sensitive, intelligent killer, whose formally elegant prose Le Port worked with in developing his script. Hunter's absolutely right when he notes how "the images of workers in the fields and farm life could have come from a painting by Pissarro or Jean-Francois Millet" - noting the achieved authenticity of all the visual aspects; but also the literary resonance, because "Reidal and his family could be characters from the pages of Victor Hugo or Emile Zola." An analogy I wasn't aware of that Hunter points to Rene Allio’s 1976 Moi, Pierre Riviere (1976); the subject matter and narrative sources of the two films indeed seem to have have parallels worth following up on. Bruno Reidal is trapped in a mental aberration he cannot control and his final speech in the film is the quiet, almost detached admission, "Quoique je fasse, des scènes de meurtre sont pour moi pleine de charme," Scenes of murder for me are full of charm." (The sparingly used score comes from the hand of Olivier Messiaen and Charles Ives.)

This is a story that is a search for understanding. The criminologists who are examining Bruno episodically through his own written text and their in-person interrogations conclude with a diagnosis that the final intertitles explain. If the film works for you as it emphatically did for me, the result will be insight into an alien being. This is a classic style masterpiece, but it may take some time to be recognized. There are detractors who mistake if to an exploitive film. It's certainly not an easy watch but it is a rewarding one, and Vincent Le Port and Dimitri Doré are both worth watching for in future. Le Port has received prizes (including the Jean Vigo award and a César for best short film) for his earlier short work. Doré who was born in Lithuania and brought to Paris at age one and is now 24, was heralded by France Culture in January 2018 as "the young prodigy of the theatrical scene." The [url=""]French Wikipedia article on Doré[/url] shows that his acting career has exploded in the past few years. He will be remembered for this role if for no other.

I]Bruno Reidal, Confession of a Murderer /Bruno Reidal, confession d'un meutrier[/I], 101 mins., coproduced with logo Capricci by Arte, debuted Jul. 12, 2021 at Cannes International Critics' Week, nominated there for the Camera d'Or and Queer Palm; Angers (Prix Jean Carmet for best actor for Dmitri Doré), Jerusalem, Merlinka, Reykjavik, all with nominations; also Bari, Paris (Chéries-Chéris Paris Gay Film Festival) and London (BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Festival). Scheduled for release Mar. 23, 2022 in France, it is included in the joint UniFrance and Lincoln Center series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Mar. 3-13, 2022). After release the AlloCiné press rating was 4.1 (82%).

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