Deep Crimson Movie Review

Humanity has been attempting to explain evil since we climbed out of the sooty swamp water. From Balinese woodcarvings of gruesome crimes to modern 35mm Hollywood blockbusters about serial killers, we have a fascination with the darker side of life. It goes beyond myth, beyond religion and encompasses something innately human. Perhaps it has evolved from an animal instinct for protecting territory or securing a mate, whatever the impetus it has become a rampaging ship detached from its moorings. Violence assails out daily lives, and it's not just that the news is more prevalent than ever.

Many times violence is linked with politics, war, famine, natural disaster but sometimes it comes from nowhere and for no reason at all. This violence, the unexpected, the absurd, is most shocking. In her critical book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt outlined her thesis of the "banality of evil" to explain how the Nazis could murder 6 million Jews. Arndt believed that the evil of the Nazis was a banality to suffering and death - the failure of humanity to buck the system, to challenge immorality. The excuse, "everyone else was doing it," made the crimes all the more hideous.

The case of the "Honeymoon Killers," who murdered lonely women in a scheme for money in the 1940s, was one of the most bizarre serial crimes in American history; a story that could be subtitled, "the American dream meets the banality of evil." The killers were an odd pair, Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, who met through the pages of a sleazy tabloid. Martha was overweight and lonely, Ray was a down-and-out hustler. They began their crime spree bilking single women but soon resorted to killing their victims, more out of jealously than to cover their tracks. Their subsequent capture and execution fascinated the public in the '40s and several films have been made of their crimes. Deep Crimson is the latest film to portray the murderous couple, and it is as grim and iniquitous as its protagonists.

In Arturo Ripstein's film, Martha is Coral, played by Opera singer Regina Orozco, Ray is Nicolas, here played by actor Daniel Gimenez Cacho. Orozco is a big woman, a homely woman, but the film doesn't take advantage of this and make her into a monster. Coral is weirdly distracted and violently temperamental, clearly schizophrenic. She drops her two children at an orphanage, in a heartbreaking sequence that left me (a father) sick to my stomach, and joins the balding Nicolas in a desperate scheme to swindle lonely women. Soon the bilking turns to murder and the film ends on a cruel, depressing note.

When Deep Crimson played theatrically there were walkouts. People couldn't handle the way the film approached its dark material with both a morbid humor and a grim violence. Mixing the two, dark comedy and bloody violence, has become a staple of underground, anarchistic films that smack the viewer while they're laughing. The goal is clear; the film wants the audience to second-guess itself, to become uncomfortable. It's been done countless times: from Un Chien Andalou to Man Bites Dog. The uncaring, banal killer has become almost formulaic. And the killers in Deep Crimson are cut from the same mold; they kill only because they can, because it's what they do. There is no right and wrong, only life and death. And even then life means very, very little.

Ripstein is one of, if not the, leading cinema auteur in Mexico. Having worked with Luis Buñuel in his youth and directed some of Mexico's most famed films; Ripstein has a filmography of works that are bleak and at times mordant. Deep Crimson fits perfectly in this oeuvre.

The human condition is such that our fascination with violence and evil tramples over our rational minds, our moral compasses. Ripstein attempts, and succeeds in varying degrees, to sublimate this obsession with violence. He, like provocateur Takashi Miike, wants to shock the audience and at the same time make them think twice. He wants to make them laugh and then make them sick to their stomachs for laughing. It's a cruel and bitter game without compassion. After the last gasp, the question remains: Why have we subjected ourselves to this film? I can't answer that.

Aka Profundo carmesí.


Deep Crimson Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 1996


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