GENEALOGIES OF A CRIME (Généalogies d’un Crime)(director/writer: Raúl Ruiz; screenwriter: Pascal Bonitzer; cinematographer: Stephan Ivanov; editor: Valeria Sarmiento; music: Jorge Arriagada; cast: Catherine Deneuve (Solange), Michel Piccoli (Georges Didier), Melvil Poupaud (Rene), Andrzej Seweryn (Christian), Bernadette Lafont (Esther), Monique Melinaud (Louise), Hubert Saint-Macary (Verret); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paulo Branco; Gemini Films; 1997-France-in French with English subtitles)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Chilean-born French postsurrealist Raul Ruiz (“Life is a Dream”/”On Top of the Whale”) presents a somber, cerebral, psychological thriller put together like a puzzle. It is based on the case of Hermine van Hug, a 1920s psychoanalyst who believed that criminal tendencies are formed at age five and who labeled her nephew a murderer before he reached adolescence.
At her son’s funeral, after his car accident, Solange (Catherine Deneuve), a defense lawyer who never won a case and is famous for taking on lost causes, agrees to defend René (Melvil Poupaud), a young man her son’s age, accused of murdering his wealthy Aunt Jeanne (also played by Deneuve). The aunt was a warped psychiatrist who raised him as a child and was of the opinion from infancy that he was destined for a life of crime.
Rene’s case draws the support of a society of French and Belgian psychologists, headed by eccentric Georges (Michel Piccoli). His opinions are countered by his rival Christian (Seweryn). Soon Rene connects the defense lawyer with his dead aunt while she identifies him with her dead son–a strange relationship develops once the two become lovers after she frees him of the charges and she’s given custody of him. Ruiz loads the narrative with boring mind games, confusing double identity scenes, and enough psychobabble and strange exchanges to make you never want to go near a shrink, even if you were desperate for help. Through a series of flashbacks within flashbacks we’re shown Rene’s crime several times from a number of perspectives, which ultimately makes everything we were told before seem more questionable.
A genes vs. environment debate runs throughout, as the filmmaker explores if Rene was destined for a life of crime at birth.
The best reasons for seeing this incomprehensible puzzler and pretentious arty mystery is for some of the eloquent performances. Piccoli is terrific as the nutty shrink, Poupaud gives a strong performance as the focal point of the philosophical debate, while Deneuve, well … she is just doubly good in her twisty role.
REVIEWED ON 5/6/2004 GRADE: C +
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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