After a preliminary scene in bed where the girl, Alice (Natacha Regnier, unrecognizable from The Dreamlife of Angels), mouths off to the boy, Luc (Jeremie Renier), taking a photograph of his limp penis and threatening to mail it to his mother, they commit a violent crime. Without fully knowing their motive, our title characters meander into a high school shower and stab their jock classmate Said (Salim Kechiouche).
Taking it's cue from the Coen Brothers' recently re-released Blood Simple, they proceed to get rid of the body by wiping up the blood and dragging the canvas wrapped body out into the middle of the woods to bury it. Ozon dwells on their first major obstacle, fully observing how difficult it is to rid themselves of the corpse.
Thrillers should really grab you in the first fifteen minutes. It's the crucial time where we meet the characters who you'll be following for the duration of the film. The biggest problem with Criminal Lovers is that Ozon has created two characters who are downright annoying to be with for ninety minutes - she's completely obnoxious and rude to the boy, berating him with every word. He's a simpering weakling who sulkily takes it on the chin. They're nasty and dull, a poor combination.
Things heat up when they get lost in the woods. Before you can say "modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel, they're kidnapped by a natty old forest hick (creepy Miki Manojlovic) who locks them in the basement. What follows are drawn out scenes of the wood ogre demanding that Luc bathe him and have sex with him, just for starters. The worst, of course, is yet to come. Why do you think he's fattening Luc up? What do fairy tale ogres do to their victims?
Intercut with these relentless scenes of torture are flashbacks of high school as Alice and Luc plan their murder. Far from illuminating the crime, they make it trite because each twist involved in their scheme is telegraphed so far in advance through the obvious dialogue that there's no satisfaction in those elements of surprise. The viewer is forced to sit and wait for the inevitable "moment of shock" where we see that "everything is not what it seemed to be."
A good hour of the movie is devoted to the ogre and his child as they spend time developing their sado-masochistic relationship while Alice seethes in the basement demanding food. You quickly become used to the wood ogre pushing Luc around, and soon realize that this is going to be the movie. The youngsters aren't going to escape for several reels, so we're treated to long takes of "wash my hairy back" or "my turn to wash your back." Since Ozon so clearly wants to titillate and shock his audience, the effect wears off as his well of continuous thrills runs dry.
The grand finale is utterly ridiculous on every level, as Ozon winks and nudges as the action takes place, asking the audience for a pat on the back to acknowledge how clever he is to make fun of the lovers engaging in their moment in the spotlight. With his numerous cutaways to animals peeking in from the forest and the bright, shining music, you can almost hear Ozon say, "Aren't I being so clever with my use of irony?"
Pretentious schoolboy drivel. This is the type of movie which gives "art house cinema" a bad name.
Aka Les Amants Criminels.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 18th August 1999
Distributed by: Strand Releasing
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: François Ozon
Screenwriter: François Ozon
Starring: Natacha Régnier as Alice, Jérémie Renier as Luc, Predrag Miki Manojlović as L'homme de la forêt, Salim Kechiouche as Saïd, Yasmine Belmadi as Karim, Bernard Maume as Le professeur, Jean-Louis Debard as Le gardien de nuit
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