Deep Crimson

Nov 12, 1997 at 12:00 am

Mexican director Arturo Ripstein's Deep Crimson is based on the same true-crime story that inspired the American cult film The Honeymoon Killers (1970), the murder spree of an unlikely couple who hustled lonely-heart types for their money before killing them. But whereas the earlier film was a gritty black-and-white affair, Ripstein's version is graced with lushly somber colors and a thread of Buñuelian black humor which leavens its successive horrors.

Set in the late '40s, it tells the tale of Coral (Regina Orozco), an obese, love-starved single mother and part-time nurse longing for the Charles Boyer of her dreams, anxious to feed greedily on the bonbons of romance. Into her life comes Nicolas (Daniel Cacho), a small-time Lothario who makes a dishonest living by attaching himself to lonely women long enough to siphon off their bank accounts before poisoning them. At first, the two do not seem fated to bond -- Nicolas is as tightly wound as Coral is slovenly, a preening bantam in an ill-fitting toupee, appalled by the nurse's gross emotionalism (and meager funds) -- but love conquers all and before long the two are pledging their undying devotion.

What follows is a story of escalating murder and madness with Ripstein and his wife -- the screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego, maintaining for the most part an ironic tone -- delineating a world where both hunter and prey are ridiculous specimens. Only toward the end, with the murder of an innocent child, does their calculation falter. It's too weighty a transgression for this amoral fable to happily bear and the rapid and inexplicable denouement that follows makes it seem as though the filmmakers, finally, had become disgusted with their creation.

Ripstein has spoken at some length about the meaning of his film, about the "mad love" of outsiders and how for them "killing is crucial: it defines them ... it is their fate." Though this places his intentions squarely in the post-romantic, surrealist tradition, it doesn't alter the fact that what he's devised is an engagingly nasty little entertainment that relishes in the details of its characters' ripe pathologies and has little more on its mind than giving its viewers a mild thrill.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].