Category Archives: Foreign Thriller Films

The Secret in Their Eyes-2009

The Secret in Their Eyes-2009

Director-Juan Jose Campanella

Starring-Soledad Villamil, Ricardo Darin

Reviewed June 6, 2010

Grade: A

The Secret in Their Eyes is a wonderful film and one of the best of the year 2009- deservedly it won the Best Foreign Language Film of that year. Argentinian, it is a multi-faceted story with twists and turns, leaving the audience guessing.

The remarkable characteristic of the film is that it crosses genres. It lies somewhere between a thriller and romantic film, and with much depth. The story concerns a criminal investigator who decides to write a memoir of a case that happened twenty-five years ago as he reflects on the present as well as the past. This story angle in itself is highly appealing.

The film contains many flashbacks- a young newlywed was raped and murdered years ago in an unsolved case, and the film is clearly influenced heavily by both Alfred Hitchcock and Dirty Harry. It has a few surprises and twists to the tale, especially as the plot moves along. I adored the use of mirrors, reflections, shadows, and eyeglasses. Hitchcock lovers will know all about that.

I was fortunate to see this film at my local art theater and at close to three hours, it can be slow moving at times, but well worth the pay off. The Secret in Their Eyes is a very, very well made film.

The Bridesmaid-2004

The Bridesmaid-2004

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Benoit Magimel, Laura Smet

Reviewed December 14, 2016

Grade: B+

A more modern offering by Claude Chabrol, (many of his films were made in the 1960’s and 1970’s), his 2004 film entitled, The Bridesmaid, continues the tradition of compelling, macabre, story-telling immersing the viewer in strange behavior by the central characters, as they obsess over each other in one way or another. The film is in the French language.

The Bridesmaid actually contains two plots- one explored fully, the other not explored as much as might have been hoped- the latter being the more interesting of the two. Philippe is the only son of his mother, Christine, and the only male in the household- his two other sisters live there as well. Christine is divorced and works as a hairdresser. The family is a rather typical one save for a creepy incestuous bond between Philippe and Christine-very romantic in their conversations with each other, and Philippe’s penchant for carrying around a head statue carved to resemble his mother. He regularly sleeps with the statue and kisses it on the lips.

As the youngest daughter is to be married, Philippe meets and bonds with one of the bridesmaids- Senta. The two embark on a torrid love affair and become inseparable. As their love flourishes, Senta become obsessive in her undying love for Philippe and asks him to kill a stranger as a way of proving his love for her. This leads to confusion as Senta kills another character, thinking this is what Philippe wants. Philippe becomes both afraid and titillated by the young girl.

The main plot is very reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic, Strangers on a Train, as one party is bloodthirsty and the other a more innocent victim of the plot, yet in Chabrol’s film, the other party suffers from issues of their own in the emotional sense. Senta is unbalanced, and a mysterious figure from her past- Rita- described as her stepmother, appears a few times, as she dances with her much younger partner.

A local girl mysteriously disappears early on in the film, which may be a red herring to the stories, or perhaps related to all the events of the film.

Personally, I was more intrigued by the mommy/son angle, but perhaps that is Chabrol’s way of confusing the audience. Oddly, the duo has simmering chemistry, yet each character never fesses up to being obsessed with the other- it is merely implied. Philippe dislikes Christine’s beau, who figures prominently in the main story of Senta’s machinations, but I wanted more of Christine and Philippe.

Stylistically, The Bridesmaid is dreamy and builds at a slow momentum, similar to Chabrol’s earlier films- we are aware that the story will play out in strange, interesting fashion, but we do not always know just what road Chabrol might take, nor what plot points may or may not be revealed.

Perhaps less developed as some of his fantastic earlier efforts, but certainly a recommended watch for someone in the mood for a morbid, left of center, story to sink one’s teeth into.  Claude Chabrol is a director I admire greatly for his use of fascinating elements that keep the audience guessing as to what is coming next, and this is a joy in itself.

Mother-2009

Mother-2009

Directed-Joon-Ho Bong

Starring-Hye-ja Kim

70118372

Reviewed March 9, 2011

Grade: A

Mother is brilliant! I loved it and implore people to give the film a chance. It is a Korean film- made in 2009 that almost nobody has heard of-let alone seen, but it is fantastic. It’s a shame that it did not get more notice, but sadly, some of the best films do not.

The plot revolves around a mysterious murder that occurs in a small South Korean village and a poor village woman’s mission to exonerate her mentally challenged son, who is convicted of the crime in a botched case. The plot twists and turns and is compelling beyond belief. The real crux of the film is what lengths a mother will take to protect her son, a question many viewers can ask themselves.

Why Hye-ja Kim, who plays the title character was not nominated for an Oscar for this role is beyond me and quite a shame. She is a goldmine and gives a terrific, memorable performance.

The movie is stylistic and has moments that resemble Hitchcock and David Lynch combined. One does not know what will transpire from scene to scene and that is the beauty of the film- besides the wonderful acting. Once the film ends viewers will feel compelled to discuss, which is an accomplished feat. I highly recommend it.

The Unfaithful Wife-1969

The Unfaithful Wife-1969

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Stephane Audran, Michel Bouquet

220px-UnfaithfulWifePoster

Reviewed April 23, 2016

Grade: A-

Another gem by French director Claude Chabrol, The Unfaithful Wife is a 1969 film later remade in the United States in 2002, directed then by Adrian Lynde. Having seen the remake a few times before watching the original, I cannot help but compare the two films, which in itself is fun for me since both films are vastly different from one another, especially as I find myself further pondering each. One is more conventional- the other more psychological in nature.

Successful insurance executive Charles Desvallees lives in the suburbs of Paris with his beautiful wife Helene and their young son. Life is seemingly idyllic, as they enjoy every luxury imaginable-an exquisite house with beautiful landscape, and a dutiful maid. Charles has a sexy secretary, smokes, drinks, and enjoys life at work and Helene frequently goes to Paris for shopping sprees, beauty treatments, and to attend the cinema.  What could be missing from their lives?  Helene is a bored housewife and has embarked on an affair with Victor Pegalla, a writer who lives in Paris. When Charles grows suspicious of Helene, he hires a private investigator to track her activities and reveal the true story of how she spends her time.

Admittedly, I was highly influenced by Unfaithful, the 2002 remake starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere when I viewed The Unfaithful Wife. The remake is set in New York instead of Paris and is more polished and less psychological- a Fatal Attraction type slick thriller, if you will. The “other man” is much sexier, more passionate, and the connection is more primal than in the original. This changes the tone of the film from a sexual and lustful one to a more complex and  psychological dynamic- The Unfaithful Wife is a more thinking man’s film. Victor is handsome and well-groomed, but he is rather similar to Helene’s husband, so we wonder what the main appeal is- if she is seeking adventure. Lane’s 2002 character’s choice is easy- her affair is based on the physical attractiveness of the man. 1969’s Helene is not having her affair for that reason- in fact, the reasons, besides boredom, are unclear, making the film more complex.

When the main action (a death) occurs at the midway point, the film goes in a different direction and becomes complicated. No longer is the main plot Helene’s adultery, but rather what Charles has done and the repercussions bound to follow. Do we see Charles as the villain and Helene as the victim? Who do we feel sorry for? Do we root for anyone? Certainly the character of Victor is not explored in much depth. What are his motivations? Is he in love with Helene?

Helene is an interesting character. Is she meant to be sympathetic or hated? Or just complex?  One can interpret her in different ways- the woman has it all- beauty, a faithful husband, a wonderful home life- why does she risk sacrificing it all for a fling?  Does she dare to want more out of her life and have some adulterous fun? It does not seem that Helene is in love with Victor or has any desire to run away with him or leave her husband.

Charles is also a character to be analyzed closely. Throughout the first portion of the film he is seen as a victim- his gorgeous wife has mysterious contempt for him and plays him for a fool. She spends his money and cheats on him, while he adores her and resists his young, flirtatious secretary, who has a thing for Charles and wears short skirts seemingly for his benefit. She is much younger than Helene. Later, his character’s actions and motivations shift from victim to arguably brutish and primal. A momentary outburst changes his motivations and the character becomes calculating.

In the end Charles and Helene come together and resume normalcy in their lives, but will things ever be the same? Will trust ever reappear in their lives? Is Helene now afraid of or intimidated by her husband or rather, does she now have a new found desire for her alpha, take-charge husband?

The 1969 version of The Unfaithful Wife is layered, complex, interesting, and left me thinking about the film and that is a very good sign. The remake, while very good, is more of a blockbuster, produced kind of film, while the original goes more for thought. The lack of sex appeal in Victor is a negative of the film as is his motivations, but the character driven nuances of the other character’s make this a thought provoking watch.

Violette Noziere-1978

Violette Noziere-1978

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Isabelle Huppert

70067611

Reviewed February 16, 2016

Grade:B+

Another in the legion of thrilling and mysterious films by French director Claude Chabrol, Violette Noziere tells the true story of an eighteen year old Parisian girl, who plots her parents murder in 1930’s France. The fact that the tale is true to life makes it even more horrific and mesmerizing. It is beautifully shot, though the action largely takes place in interior settings. This film is a cerebral experience.

The film is classy in every way- like French films typically are, and Isabelle Hupert (Violette) takes center stage. She is gorgeous and interesting looking (reminiscent of a young Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the lead role. Violette appears to be a typical French teen, but harbors a dark secret and something always appears glum about the character. She works nights as a prostitute accosting wealthy men. When she meets handsome, but spendthrift, Jean Francois, a young man she fancies, she becomes his main source of income and slowly begins to plot the murder of her low-income, yet stable parents, in an attempt to inherit their apparent savings.

The story is somewhat murky as Violette’s version of events (mainly in the past and concerning her father) are accusatory. She insists that her father sexually abused her as a child, but is this in her fantasy world or did this actually happen? One never knows. Making the film compelling is that Violette’s parents are quite likable. Struggling to make ends meet and provide a quality life, they prepare home-cooked meals, enjoy life, and appear to be decent people. What is the reality?

Later, we witness a rivalry between Violette and her mother. In one scene we see Violette’s father bouncing his daughter on his knee while mother looks on filled with hatred. When she attempts to seduce her husband, unsuccessfully, Violette looks on amused. Is this solely in Violette’s mind?

Chabrol, an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock’s, keeps the suspense going throughout the film, but the heart of the film really belongs to Hupert. From the start of the film, amid meaningless banter with her more refined girlfriend, the audience can tell there is something amiss about Violette. She seems lonely, like a lost little girl yearning for some excitement as her eyes stare into the distance. Her true colors are slowly exposed, yet Chabrol never makes her all out crazy. Violette always has a cool, calm, demeanor and that is why the film succeeds.

For fans of Chabrol, or film fans eager for a foreign language treat, Violette Noziere is a rare find, a welcome addition to the growing number of his films I have watched with interest, and heartily enjoyed. The mystique, the beauty of the artistry, and the twists and turns are top notch.

Irreversible-2002

Irreversible-2002

Director-Gaspar Noe

Starring-Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#4

60026141

Reviewed February 7, 2016

Grade: C+

As I ponder my review of Irreversible,  a 2002 French thriller and “art film”, I am attempting (as I always do) to look at the film critically, from a story and a technical standpoint, as well as a myriad of other aspects that make up a film. This is admittedly a toughie. On the surface I despised the film wholeheartedly (more on that later), but from a critical standpoint, I found characteristics to admire and give credit to. One thing is for certain- I never want to see this film again.

The story is told non-linear style and, in fact, begins at the conclusion of the story and works backwards, which I credit the film for, giving it a unique storytelling experience, cleverly done. Two Parisian friends, Marcus and Pierre, go on a rampage after Marcus’s girlfriend is brutally raped and beaten. In panic mode, they learn the name of the attacker (Le Tenia) and go to a gay BDSM club aptly named “The Rectum”, a place the attacker apparently frequents, where they fervently search for him all the while beating club-goers and causing havoc.

Since the story is told in reverse, the audience is initially in a state of confusion at the events transpiring, and the jagged, shaky camera work, a very creative technique, only adds to the chaos. We only know that two maniacs are running rampant, destroying everything in their path. Slowly, we realize what their motivation is as we work backwards. We are introduced to Alex, a beautiful young woman- in the early stages of pregnancy, who is Marcus’s steady, but used to date Pierre. They are all very good friends. We see the romance between Marcus and Alex, and, working even further backwards, we see Alex sitting alone in a park, reading a novel, and enjoying a bright, pleasant day in the park. This peaceful closing scene contrasts drastically with the rest of the dark film. The film then becomes a flashing, frenetic, black and white experience, which I do not understand.

The film is quite bizarre and intensely brutal. The rape of Alex in a dark, gloomy underpass is one of the most intense and disturbing scenes I have ever witnessed in film, and at one point I needed to leave the room briefly. The scene is ten minutes in length and Alex is anally raped and then beaten into a comatose state. It is a sickening scene and we witness her pain, misery, and humiliation first hand.

When Pierre and Marcus avenge her rape on who they think is Le Tenia, the scene is also extremely brutal. After (supposed) Le Tenia is captured by them, he attempts to rape Marcus, and Pierre grabs a fire extinguisher and bashes the victim to death as the face is repeatedly destroyed in full detail. It is a tough scene to watch.

I question the motivations of the director wholeheartedly and wonder if his intentions were to story-tell, or simply make as gruesome and shocking a film as possible. I have read that when the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, many people walked out of the auditorium in disgust- I can see why. Irreversible is severely homophobic, with repeated gay slurs being used throughout the gay club scenes and is also anti- Asian as evidenced by Pierre’s and Marcus’s racial slurs directed at a taxi driver.

The motivations of the character of Le Tenia make no sense to me as it is revealed he is a gay man. Why a gay man would brutally rape a female is unclear to me. This, combined with the extreme brutality, anti gay, anti minority, and anti women, render the film rather pointless from a story perspective.

My assumption after processing the film is that the director wants us to sympathize with nobody in the film, except Alex. Pierre, Marcus, certainly Le Tenia are all hateful characters. It is interesting how, at first, since the beginning is the end, the motivations of the characters are unclear and confused.

My admiration of Irreversible comes solely from the unique camera work, the clever pacing of the film in the form of backwards chapters, and the frenetic style of the opening work, however the homophobia, racism, and brutality left me cold and I could not shake the feeling that this film is shocking for the sake of being shocking, and one that I ultimately cannot applaud.

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Bernadette Lafont

60000531

Reviewed December 18, 2015

Grade: A

Les Bonnes Femmes is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director that before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968. He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement. In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960’s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it. It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.

The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom  happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously  look similar to one other.  Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men.  The girls party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.

So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large this way on the surface, but all throughout the film there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows or coming around the bend. As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.

In fact, the film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood. Paris, one of the worlds most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as a greyness envelopes every shot.

Throughout  Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent.  Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love. One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other, who ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killers bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years. Creepy? Yes.  The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girls heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.

Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly. This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. In fact, the ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail. During the murder it almost seems like the victim is welcoming the death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim or is a new girl the killers next target? In the final shot we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.

Chabrol is clearly not a happily ever after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.

(Le Boucher) The Butcher-1970

(Le Boucher) The Butcher-1970

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Stephane Audran, Jean Yanne

60026770

Reviewed September 11, 2015

Grade: B+

(Le Boucher) The Butcher is a French thriller made in 1970 that is slow moving at first, but progresses to a dramatic crescendo as the latter part of the film escalates, and turns from plodding to cerebral mind-blower. Clearly mirrored after and inspired by director Alfred Hitchcock, The Butcher is surprisingly not quite horror (based on the title one might assume it is), but rather, an intelligent dreamy thriller.

Gorgeous schoolteacher Helene Daville is smart, confident, and filled with a zest for life. She tutors children needing extra help, laughs with them, and even lets one sip wine to try the taste of it. She enjoys living and the occasional adventure. One day, at a wedding, she meets the local butcher, Paul Thomas, and they immediately hit it off as they tenderly walk home together. Cordial and kind, they develop a friendship and laugh together. As time goes on, a series of killings begins to occur in the town. Helene begins to suspect Paul of the murders and wrestles with her conflict between her budding love for him and her revulsion at the thought of being in love with a vicious murderer. Her conflict is the point of the film.

The relationship between Helene and Paul is an interesting dynamic and, I now realize, the reason for the slow pace of the picture. Helene and Paul enjoy a nurturing, caring courtship and the film successfully achieves the intended slow build. The murder mystery is rather secondary and helps support the main plot. We know little- almost nothing- about the female victims. They are strangers to the audience and the reason for their deaths are unknown. The killer simply kills- no motivation is revealed. This is what makes the film so cerebral and mysterious.

The Butcher is really a love story intertwined with a thriller. It is not a mainstream thriller in the conventional sense and the final twenty or thirty minutes reeled me in completely and gave me great admiration for the film, which I had been hedging about throughout. The meat of the film might have started an additional thirty minutes prior to when it did in my opinion, but then again the slow build may have been intended to make the end result more powerful. The moral conflict, love versus hate, tenderness, affection, caring, devastation, and betrayal are all explored during this relatively brief finale. In addition, the blurry camera shots and angles from the vantage point of an automobile driver traveling down a dark, tree-lined street are highly creative and unique.

The comparisons to Hitchcock are evident. Helene is similar to Tippi Hedren’s “Melanie Daniels” from The Birds. She is glamorous, alluring, blonde, tall, well-dressed, and the heroine of the film. Attractive and blonde are traits featured in many Hitchcock films. Paul, on the other hand, reminds me of Rod Taylor’s Mitch, also from The Birds, though not as handsome or charismatic. Still, their relationship reminds me of the two of them as the chemistry oozes from the screen and a romance and thriller are combined.

Helene is perceived as a wholesome wonderful person by the audience, but is she truly? In the end we are left questioning her true feelings and are left with a distaste in our mouths. Her choices confuse us or is she simply a complex human being like each of us is? The interesting aspect of The Butcher is it leaves one questioning how we ourselves would handle Helene’s dilemma, and more importantly, how we would channel our feelings if faced with a similar predicament.