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Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Criminal Lovers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Hansel and Gretel kill: As Alice (Natacha Régnier, The Dreamlife of Angels), 17, and her boyfriend Luc (Jérémie Rénier) drive from the scene of the crime into the countryside with their classmate Saïd’s (Salim Kechiouche) body in the trunk, they accidentally strike and kill a rabbit. Alice is inconsolable. Though the broken animal doesn’t sport a vest, waistcoat and oversized watch, Alice, like her literary counterpart, will soon find herself falling down a hole, but not into a Wonderland.

She savors the taste of crime and damnation: We witness her all but lick her lips as she recites by heart a Rimbaud poem in her French class which reflects her perverse appetites. But Alice has fallen down a psychological rabbit hole long before she and Luc lose their way in the woods, after hastily burying Saïd in a shallow grave, and long before they come upon an ogre in the flesh like Hansel and Gretel’s witch.

Nightmares, Freud hypothesized, are formed of the dark things we hide and lock away in the cellars of our minds. Like abused children, they bang on the cellar door mostly ignored by our waking minds until the watch is relaxed in sleep, allowing the repressed things to come up. Some myths and fairy tales are our collective nightmares, safely entrapped in the amber of highly symbolic prose — a dream language. In Criminal Lovers, director François Ozon (Water Drops on Burning Rocks, See the Sea) translates some of that prose into horrifyingly explicit cinematic flesh and blood; he allows the repressed children of our collective unconscious up into the projector’s light.

Though Ozon alludes to ancient myths, fairy tales, chivalric romances and Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, he also alludes to the modern mythmaking of cinema. A shower and stuffed birds suggest Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Alice’s criminal ambitions and Luc’s impotence recall Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

Freud identified Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf as a symbol of an adolescent girl’s devouring sexual desire. Like Norman Bates, both Alice and Luc are secretly terrified of their sexual impulses; arousing them is Saïd’s murder.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at


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