Wednesday, February 8, 2017

NEXT TIME I'LL AIM AT THE HEART (La prochaine fois je viserai le coeur, 2014)

Cedric Anger's film is based on an actual crime spree in 1970s France perpetrated by a gendarme who took part in the investigation of his own crimes. The fictionalized movie murderer likes to kill with his car, either running women down or taking them on joyrides, shooting them and dumping them on the side of the road. The real-life killer lives today, having been deemed psychologically unfit to stand trial. La prochaine fois seems to challenge that verdict; at least it left me questioning it. Franck (Guillaume Canet) struggles with his impulse to kill, mortifying his flesh with barbed wire among other measures, but can't stop himself -- with one important exception. He falls in love with a woman named Sophie (Ann Girardot), or as near to love as he can get, only to learn that she's already married with no plans to leave her husband. He never kills or even attacks her. Maybe she's become too much of a distinct individual, or maybe his motives for killing have nothing to do with the anger he presumably feels toward Sophie. But you're left with the fact that he does not attack the one person he might have some reason to lash out at. For all that the film provokes empathy for the torment Franck puts himself through, even as you're repulsed by his crimes, his treatment of Sophie could convince you that the fictional killer, at least, had some capacity for self-control, at least, that makes him responsible for the crimes he did commit.

Canet was nominated for a Cesar award for his work as Franck and I'd say he deserved it. The film as a whole is pretty bleak, playing out in a blank landscape of empty roads and parking lots, with a sense of inevitable comeuppance for Franck compounding the dread you might feel every time he takes a woman for a drive. You could find yourself rooting for Franck. against your better instincts, to avoid capture during the film's big car chase, or cheering for him when he outwits the gendarme assigned with him to an all-night stakeout of his own getaway car. At the very least you feel his anxiety, his fear of getting caught as well as whatever he really feels about killing people. La prochaine fois is one of the more successful efforts I've seen lately at getting inside a serial killer's head without vicarious or voyeuristic intentions. It's a more modest and more convincing portrait of evil than many more sensational pictures.

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