|The Crimson Rivers
Les Rivières Pourpres
dir Mathieu Kassovitz
From the gruesome title sequence, we know we're in Silence of the Lambs territory here--a brutal serial killer with some sort of twisted motivation. And director-cowriter Kassovitz keeps the atmosphere taut and tense from start to finish on this terrifically entertaining, involving thriller. At the start we're following two police detectives on separate investigations. Heroic veteran Niemans (Reno) is trying to unravel the perplexing, horrific death of a professor at an isolated university in the French Alps, but the closed community seems to be hiding several secrets. Meanwhile 60 miles away, the young hothead Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel) is investigating the desecration of a young girl's grave when his search takes him to the same university. So these two loners must join forces to figure out what's going on.
Kassovitz fills the film with clever, unsettling touches--the direction, cinematography and sound all conspire to give us a sense of vertigo, while the story lays on red herrings and ethical issues that make it all very complex indeed. We always feel like we're one step behind the cops, which is unusual in this kind of film! It gets increasingly creepy and sinister, and even a foreboding pronouncement by a blind nun (Sanda)--"Save your soul while you still can!"--doesn't seem corny. Reno and Cassel are magnetic as usual in the central roles; their chalk-and-cheese chemistry never falls into standard buddy movie cliches. And the film's nearly overpowering gruesomeness is tempered with stylish intelligence and lots of mumbo jumbo that never quite makes sense. It's all so disturbing, witty and visually astonishing that we're just happy to be along for the ride. A superior, original thriller.