I was pleasantly surprised that two of the stronger films in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York were from the familiar the serial killer genre. Perhaps, these films made such an impression because both are based on real cases.
“SK1” (“L’Affaire SK1”) is a procedural that follows the multi-year search for and trial of a serial killer, nicknamed The Beast of the Bastille. Director Frederic Teller makes a notable feature debut, showing in fascinating detail the determination of the police investigating the murder of women in Paris. Mistakes prolong the hunt.
The film is extremely well-acted. The focus is on a young inspector (Raphael Personnaz, “The French Minister”). His partner is played by Dardennes regular Olivier Gourmet. One of France’s top actresses, Nathalie Baye (“Catch Me If You Can”) portrays a lawyer after the killer is caught and put on trial. Director Teller, who co-wrote the screenplay, maintains tension throughout. The film has some chilling scenes, particularly when the killer (Adama Niane) makes a court confession in front of the victims’ families.
Director Frederic Teller and members of the cast discussed the film after the screening. Teller said he had access to a trove of documents for different drafts of the screenplay. Nathalie Baye who had been directed by Teller for television said she really enjoyed him as director, she felt they worked very close together as he understands actors.
Teller said his main influence was from French and American films from the 1970s and 1980s that focused on character like “Missing” and “Taxi Driver”. He described “SK1” as “obsessing, searching for the man behind the monster” and added that it was a “film about people fighting evil.”
Also inspired by history, “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart” (“Prochaine Fois Je Viserai le Coeur”) has a very unusual twist in that the serial killer (Guillaume Canet, “In the Name of My Daughter”) is Franck Neuhart, a respected gendarme assigned to the case.
Before the screening, Canet added that because of the complexity of his role, it is the “best part” of his career. He also saluted his “spiritual father” director Jerry Schatzberg who was in the audience, saying Schatzberg discovered Al Pacino (“Panic in Needle Park”, 1971).
The film is directed and co-written by Cedric Anger, a former film critic. Set during 1978-1979, it is an absorbing study of a very conflicted character with several gripping twists to the plot as the gendarme attempts to impede the investigation of himself.
Canet is impressive. His Neuhart is frightening, deadly violent to his female victims. But his private life, he carries on a tentative romance with his cleaning lady. In torment from the crimes he seems unable to control, Neuhart beats himself, and in unsettling scenes, has barbed wire wrapped around his bleeding arm.