Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Crimson Rivers


I have several days off from the recording studio while the music engineers skillfully make my vocal tracks to Endless Suburb more and more exciting with reverb and overdubbing and various distortions. Sort of like Cher's Believe album. We're trying to get it ready for a November ship date so it'll be available by K-Tel television commercial in time for the Holiday season.  I've suggested adding several holiday themed tracks such as Santa Shops at Lane Bryant but the producers want to keep the album pure.

I've therefore had plenty of time to consider my new kabuki musical. Joseph checked the rights situation for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and, although Ken Kesey is a big fan, it's not available as a property at this time due to the recent revival on Broadway with that darling Gary Sinise. We have, therefore, optioned another property tailor made to my talents. I am happy to announce that Vicki Lester will be returning soon to the stage in the kabuki musical version of The Last Seduction as Bridget/Wendy. Barry Manilow has agreed to do the music. When asked if he thought he could, he replied

Lyrical poems,
Miniature melodies.
Just like a jingle!

Having some time on my hands, off I went to the local art house where I caught a matinee of The Crimson Rivers, a new film from France starring Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. The title translation is slightly inaccurate - the original French title is Les Rivieres Pourpres and "pourpres" carries with it a connotation of heraldic royalty or blue blood that doesn't translate and which is important in understanding the plot and theme of this procedural.

The scene is the French Alps town of Guernon, located in a valley in the shadow of Mont Blanc. As the film opens, the librarian of the local college has been discovered murdered and mutilated and hanging hundreds of feet up on a sheer rock wall, trussed in mountain climbing ropes. This is obviously not a usual country town murder, so Paris sends in the French equivalent of an FBI profiler (Jean Reno) to investigate. Meanwhile, in a nearby town, the new police chief (Vincent Cassel) investigates the attempted desecration of a grave from twenty years ago. Neither man knows it but their two cases are integrally connected. As they probe into doings in the region, especially in the isolated college, they eventually collide and join forces with a young woman mountain guide (Nadia Fares) to unravel a mystery that involves years and years of skullduggery.

The opening scenes of the film, with their moody helicopter shots of the Alps in late fall/early winter suggest that we're in for a very European piece. The tracking of an auto is reminiscent of the opening of the Dutch film, The Vanishing and the isolated, fortress like college with its antagonistic students and faculty evokes Annaud's film version of The Name of the Rose. Unfortunately, director Mathieu Kassovitz has obviously been fed  a diet of Hollywood serial killer movies and has absorbed too many of their clich├ęs rather than finding a distinct voice of his own. Breaking into a mausoleum late at night must happen in a major thunder and lightning storm. Each corpse must be found under more gothic and grotesque circumstances. Odd camera angles and dark clothes make things more menacing than necessary.

The great weakness of the film is the script. (Jean-Christophe Grange based on his novel.) There are enough plot holes, especially in the denouement, to drive several Renaults and a Citroen through. The writing is sloppy. Many major characters' actions are left thoroughly unexplained and the whole reason behind the murders is clouded in a quick, and somewhat lunatic last minute plot twist. It also makes use of that hoariest of villains, the neo-Nazi. This script would have been shredded in any US studio story conference and at least made coherent. I have the feeling that there was some bad editing done to bring the film down to length and some important plot points were simply junked.

On the other hand, there is much to like here. The photography of the towns and the mountains is gorgeous. There is a descent into a glacial crevasse that's much more interesting and real than anything in Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit. The continuity people weren't quite on the ball and it seems to leap from October to February and back a couple of times from scene to scene but it's not too terribly distracting. The performances of the two leads, Reno and Cassel, are also first rate and they make their detective heroes much more human than the usual Hollywood variety. These are real men, flawed and vulnerable.

I'll recommend this as a good rainy afternoon rent, or perhaps a matinee. The mountain scenery will lose some of its menace and effect on the smaller screen and it's very much a film of place.

Handless corpse. Eyeless corpse. Missing school records. Blind nun. Sinister ophthalmologist. Gratuitous kick boxing fight. Neo- Nazis. Canophobia. Glacial caves. Avalanche hazards.

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