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Red Lights
(NR, 106 min.)
Selected theaters

Thursday, December 16, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Red Lights

French tension

Director Cedric Kahn's French thriller Red Lights begins ominously and, miraculously, never lets up until the end.

A nondescript insurance salesman, Antoine Duman (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), is impatiently waiting for his corporate lawyer wife Helene (Carole Bouquet) at a Paris cafe. There's something odd about the way he chugs his beer, and the number of times the wife keeps telling him via cell phone that she's detained at work. When they finally hit the road to pick up their two young children in a Bordeaux summer camp, we keep hearing radio reports of fatal car crashes, and a murderous jail fugitive in the area. The banter between the couple makes it obvious the two love each other, but there's an unspoken tension between them.

The car crashes, the fugitive, the tension between the couple, and the "red lights" all effortlessly intersect. And it's wrapped up in a fascinating story about an extremely flawed but loving marriage. Clever, though, as Kahn, Laurence Ferreira-Barbosa and Gilles Marchand's screenplay is (based on a Georges Simenon novel, which set the location in America) it's Kahn's amazing ability to sustain a mood of impending dread that makes this film a boderline classic.

Darroussin's work is rich in depth so that we never tire of him (quite an achievement for an actor who is in practically every shot). Bouquet is as captivating today as she was in 1977's That Obscure Object of Desire. Vincent Deniard as a drifter who changes the couple's lives forever is a genuine piece of menace. The briefest roles are filled by actors who seem born to play them. Jean-Pierre Gos is a deliciously no-nonsense inspector, and Carlic Paul as a waitress who gives aid to Antoine in his darkest moments delivers a beautifully understated performance.

The film's only major flaw is an ending that's too compact. If that one final scene had just been rewritten, this would have been the closest thing to a perfect film in years.


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