Friday, May 13, 2016

Frédéric Tellier's SERIAL KILLER 1: a humane shocker about the French justice system

Serial killer movies come and go with alarming regularity, and most of them are worth shit. Which makes this new one from France -- SERIAL KILLER 1 (L'affaire SK1) -- directed by Frédéric Tellier and co-written by Tellier, David Oelhoffen and Patricia Tourancheau (from her book on the same subject, the infamous Beast of the Bastille) -- something special indeed. This case is said to have resulted in the largest manhunt in French history.

M. Tellier (shown at right), whose resume includes work as actor, writer and now director, comes at his subject full throttle and all-encompassing. His movie tracks back and forth between the early beginnings of the case -- which lasted a decade of more and involved the killings of many young women -- and its ending in court. The filmmaker covers his subject surprisingly deeply from the viewpoints of the police investigating the crimes (with emphasis on the newbie officer played by Raphaël Personnaz, below), the victims and their families (who are themselves sometimes suspects), the prosecuting and particularly the defense attorneys (Nathalie Baye center, two photos below, portrays one of these), and the man accused of the crimes, Guy Georges (a phenomenally rich, frightening and finally moving performance by Adama Nianeat left, two photos below, whose impressive work alone makes the film a must-see).

It has been a long, long while since I've seen a police procedural (which this movie certainly is, in part) that offered up so well the trying, difficult road that investigators must tread, while making us feel and understand the horror and fear of the victims with such specificity (yet without forcing us to watch the killings themselves and thus become somehow partners-in-crime with the killer).

Instead we see the results of the crime, as do the police, as they view and deal with the corpses and their own pain and shame at being unable to prevent more of the killings. Tellier forces us to deal with all this yet never rubs it in. Even during the killer's confession, because we already know what has happened, the filmmaker discreetly blocks out the voice of the killer as he describes the details of the murder.

The French judicial system, it has longed seemed to me, bends over backward to protect the rights of the accused -- far more so than does our own here in the USA. This movie helps us understand why and what this achieves. The film's conclusion -- full of surprise and emotion, catharsis and revelation -- allows us to see that the monster, as the Baye character maintains, is also a man. Granted he is a man who must be locked up forever, but we are the better for having experienced this movie about his story.

By turns exciting, taut, suspenseful, frightening, horrible and yet enriching, Serial Killer 1 is a welcome addition to the genre, immediately taking its place near the top of the heap.

From Kino Lorber -- in French with English subtitles and running two hours -- the movie opens today in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 and then here in South Florida at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on June 17. Elsewhere? I should hope so -- for a movie this different and important. It lifts its genre to new, and newly humane, heights.

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