Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.
A child plays on the beach in home videos while the boy’s voice over tells us of his dreams for adulthood – where he wants to go, what he wants to be, how he wants to marry his mother – but the man recalling these images seems to have achieved none of the goals of his youth. Instead, Pierre Tardieu (Jean-Jacques Lelté) works menial jobs and lives at home with a father suffering from severe Alzheimer’s. He’s broke, he’s lonely and he only knows one outlet for his cycle of depression.
He abducts, toys with and ultimately kills carefully selected victims.
The rules he’s set for himself are clear – he can have no friends, he picks his targets with no preference for sex, age or race, and he never leaves a body behind – but when he meets a young woman named Laure (Magali Moreau) he discovers the urge to kill may no longer be a problem. But the promise of a new future for himself is no guarantee that the past let him go so easily.
Writer/director Eric Cherrière‘s other career is as a celebrated crime novelist, and his debut feature (as director) shows a strong voice at work in its depiction of a sociopath whose only outlet is murder. Genre elements come into play as the police enter the picture, but the majority of the film is focused on Pierre’s thoughts and behaviors.
Pierre is methodical in his madness – he researches his subjects carefully before kidnapping them and keeps a detailed journal of his time with them – and when it comes time for them to die he spends one final meal with them before pulling the trigger. Or slicing their throat. Or bashing their head in. The only person he confides in is his father because he knows the man is unable to betray him in his current state, but the isolation and lack of attention – necessities for a serial killer in some ways – becomes his possible downfall.
Cherrière’s film is an attractive downer in some ways, meaning it’s more of a dark drama than a thriller, but the look, feel and performances make for an engaging and frequently suspenseful watch. It’s intentionally paced and focused on Pierre’s sad obsession with a time he spent with his mother that exists only in his head, but viewers are never abandoned in the man’s bleak psyche. Scenes of Pierre at work or hanging out with Laure offer a respite aided immensely by a playful score reminiscent at times of Yann Tiersen’s work on Amélie.
Equally enticing are the images (via cinematographer Mathias Touzeris), both light and dark, of Pierre’s journey in and out of his own personal hell. We see him planning and doing horrific acts – although the film prefers to avoid graphic depictions – but we also see him clearly relaxed and in love when he’s with Laure. Lelté makes Pierre a convincing killer, but he never crosses into the realm of creepy. That’s not a knock – it actually makes for a more effective performance as he balances the “normal” and the unsettling with frightening ease. Early scenes of him and his victims highlight a severely scary lack of emotion, and they contrast beautifully with the actions of a man who finally finds love. He may not fully understand the feeling, but it changes him.
Cruel is never really cruel in the way viewers would expect – this isn’t a mean-spirited or sadistic film – and instead it ultimately becomes about the cruelty we discover within ourselves. Sure, Pierre’s actions are (hopefully) more damaging than our own, but the revelation that we’re capable of inflicting pain is a profoundly serious one. Well, unless you’re a truly psychotic sociopath.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival