CRIMSON RIVERS, THE (Rivières pourpres, Les)(director/writer: Mathieu Kassovitz; screenwriters: Jean-Christophe Grangé/based on the novel by Mr. Grangé; cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast; editor: Maryline Monthieux; music: Bruno Coulais; cast: Jean Reno (Pierre Niémans),Vincent Cassel (Max Kerkerian), Nadia Farès (Fanny Ferreira), Dominique Sanda (Sister Andrée, mother of the dead girl), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Dr. Chernezé), François Levantal (Coroner), Laurent Avare (Remy Caillois); Runtime: 117; Tristar Pictures; 2000)
“A bizarre murder mystery…”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A bizarre murder mystery from director/writer Mathieu Kassovitz. It’s filled with mucho blood and gore, skinheads and Nazis, plans for a Master Race, and elitist professors and students. Guernon is a prestigious college located high in the French Alps. It is where a young male faculty member and candidate for a doctoral degree is found hanged and dangling in the wind by a mountainside, with his hands amputated and eyes taken out and filled with raindrops containing acid. The coroner says he endured the torture for 5 hours while in the fetal position. The victim is found by a female mountain climber.
The college is a place where it’s common for the children of the professor’s to also become faculty there, as the school is known for its collection of high IQ’s. … I saw the dubbed English version, on video.
For about half the film a serous mood is maintained, while there’s a police investigation conducted by the famed expert criminologist from Paris, Niémans (Jean Reno). He is the grumpy, laconic Lone Ranger type called in to solve the case by the local police who are out of their element with this crime. In the meantime a more youthful wisecracking, quick-tempered, pot smoking police lieutenant, Max (Vincent Cassel), has just arrived after being assigned from another provincial police department as a banishment for some misconduct. Max is more into using muscle than brain-power, and apparently hasn’t heard about the murder (which strikes me as odd). His parallel investigation is conducted with the aid of two moronic younger policemen — as his department wants him to checkout both a cemetery desecration of Nazi swastikas placed on the tomb of a girl who was killed in a truck accident two decades ago and a break-in at the elementary school where the same girl, Judith Herault, has her school files and photos stolen. Max questions the skinheads in their private club and gets into a ridiculous kickboxing match with them in the process. But he ends up learning that the girl’s body is not in the tomb and that mom went crazy after the accident and believes the demons did it and is now cloistered in a nunnery, taking a vow to live in darkness for the last 15 years. Somehow the two police investigations connect.
The beauty in the film can be seen in the scenic tour of the Alps, and in the methodical police investigation. In one marvelous visual scene, Niémans and an angry (everyone in this film is hostile) but attractive glaciologist (Farès), descend into an ice cavern and he uncovers a sample of acid rain and discovers a shimmering patch of ice with lots of blood on it where lies another victim. The geologist becomes a prime suspect.
Not content with the ghoulish murders, as the number quickly climbs to three, as an arrogant experimental ophthalmologist/geneticist (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and another faculty member are also found hanged and mutilated, the story tacks on some evil designs to the college intellectuals and brings the whole college community into the investigation as suspect. The mystery builds but the air is let out of it, as the schematic reason for the crime is absurd. The story by Jean-Christophe Grangé becomes more preposterous by each minute, and the film lays a big egg as it is wrapped up with plodding skill and the culprit is discovered in the final scene through a twist in the story. The only thrill I got out of it, was watching an avalanche take place. I can’t stand illogical thrillers that play too loose and fast with their story. I also found that I liked the two cops and the way they went about their business, but halfway through the film when they became a team that all changed–they just became too cute and tried too many shticks (ex: Niémans’ fear of dogs) to win me over, as they grew wearisome.
REVIEWED ON 11/27/2001 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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