Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Red Lights
Feux rouges : France 2004 : Cedric KAHN : 105 mins
'The National Safety Council predicts that this evening between forty and forty €”five million motorists will be on the roads, and it estimates that between now and Monday evening four hundred and thirty-five people will have lost their lives in road accidents. '
Why four hundred and thirty-five, and not four hundred and thirty or four hundred and forty? Sandwiched between the regular programmes, these predictions would be repeated all that night, and tomorrow and the next day, until towards the end they acquired the suspense of a race-commentary. Steve recalled the voice of a speaker last year, when they were bringing the children back from Maine on the Sunday evening:
'Up to now the number of deaths is considerably lower than the official forecast, despite the collision of two airliners over Washington
airport, in which thirty-two people lost their lives. But watch out! The weekend isn 't over yet! '
Georges Simenon, Red Lights
We make free. Un poco inebriatado, if you like or prefer. Main character is Antoine Dunan (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). 40ish drunk. Driving south to south of France (“Basque Country” according to the subtitles, which I don’t really believe) with trop-belle-pour-toi wife Helene (Carole Bouquet). He keeps stopping for un whisky. Double. She eventually snaps, her patience snaps. Nicks off leaving note about how she’s going to catch the train. At which point>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Despondent, he visits another bar. It’s there that he encounters the uncommunicative stranger (Vincent Deniard) to whom he later gives a lift. Antoine is courting danger, or maybe he didn’t hear about the escaped convict who is the subject of a region-wide manhunt. And why does the stranger never remove his hand from his pocket?
So he takes the keys, and she takes the train while he’s inside making small talk with a big dude who looks like Ben Affleck trying to be a grunge rocker (Vincent Deniard). There’s also been some really obvious foreshadowing up to this point, in the form of radio and TV broadcasts telling us how bad and potentially lethal traffic is and how there’s an escaped killer on the loose. Hmmm…you don’t suppose the killer might cross paths with Antoine or Helene, do you? Before we learn the answer, Antoine decides that the Affleck-looking guy must be the killer, despite no evidence that would suggest such a thing. Too bad he’s already sharing the car with him. Affleck Guy (who isn’t formally named onscreen until the very end) occasionally hits him, which certainly seems like something a fugitive would do, but Antoine’s really annoying and not very sympathetic, so he kinda deserves it.
Luke Y Thompson
It 's at one of those bars that Hélène, freaked by his increasing belligerence and inability to drive in a straight line, abandons her husband to look for a train station, and it 's at another bar that Antoine tries to strike up a conversation with the laconic Man on the Run (Vincent Deniard), as he 's dubbed in the credits. When, minutes later, the stranger steps out of the parking-lot shadows, his face half-hidden by the hood of a sweatshirt, and asks for a ride, the cocky, staggering Antoine doesn 't even break stride, waving the fellow right into the car.
Scared, he searches the dark road, tries desperately to beat the nearby train to its next station and then, stopping for more booze, makes his worst mistake. Ignoring radio warnings about an escaped convict/murderer, he picks up a tall, hulking, oddly phlegmatic guy (Vincent Deniard) who mysteriously never takes one hand out of his pants. The killer? Or one of the alcoholic fantasies now crowding into Antoine’s brain? Whatever the truth, the well-meaning but self-destructive Antoine now plucks the flower of his dissolution and madness, a blissed-out smile spreading over his face as he drives into darkness.
Plastered, he enters another bar and encounters a large, implacable man (Vincent Deniard). Despite his better judgment, he offers the man a lift to devastating consequences.
The convict, played by the hulking, sinister Vincent Deniard, soon figures in the plot, turning the man-wife conflict into a triangle–by any means a conventional one, though. Darroussin begins to identify with the convict, who somehow becomes a hero to him, the kind of outlaw he’d like to be, defying conventional society, thumbing his nose at authority and the rich.
Vincent Deniard as the Stranger has maybe three words to say but convinces.
There, Antoine picks up a menacing hitchhiker (Vincent Deniard), who, in a feat of cosmic coincidence seen only in movies, serves as a plot link, not to mention unwitting marriage therapist, between Antoine and Helene.
Soon fed up with her husband’s erratic-to-suicidal driving, the wife splits to take the train. She’s soon exchanged for a strapping stranger (Vincent Deniard), who may or may not be a dangerous escapee from a nearby prison.
All along, there have been news reports on the radio about a wanted fugitive on the loose. Undeterred, Antoine picks up a bearded stranger (Vincent Deniard), who by all appearances is benign, though the hitchhiker shows understandable concern and annoyance about Antoine’s continued swigging of Scotch and erratic driving.
It is there that our seriously impaired hero picks up a taciturn hitchhiker (Vincent Deniard) who may or may not be the dangerous escaped prisoner that Antoine has been hearing about on the radio.
Vincent Deniard is striking as a laconic stranger that Antoine picks up along the way.
After Bouquet has enough of her henpecked husband 's roadside drinking, she decamps behind his back, which is when she 's replaced in the passenger seat by Vincent Deniard 's scruffy convict. Her husband has wished for a reprieve from social restrictions (the “red lights” of the title): Now he 's got his wish.
Deniard takes over the movie for a while. Where did they find him? Brilliant, brilliant scene how he’s introduced. Says nowt while motormouth Darroussin motormouths on. At every moment you expect this stranger to haul off and deck the cunt. Doesn’t happen. Instead, seven shades of shit break loose. This is a great picture right until the end, the end is rubbish. Based on (US-set!!) novel by Georges Simenon who wrote 100 books and supposedly fucked 10,000 women, so perhaps that is where we should lay the blame. Director C.Kahn is weird, all the three films by him I’ve seen the least sympathetic character is the one the film is about: crusty auld academic in L’Ennui (1998); charismatic criminal who outstays his welcome with relentless paranoid rants in Roberto Succo (2001); and now this Antoine. Slugging back drinks more or less non stop from the start of the movie, tiresome arsehole, deserves it when Man On The Run (named as Mantana in the script itself but not the credits) does finally whale him in the face. Several truly great scenes in this picture: Antoine using a cafe’s phone, over and over, hilarious terse phonecalls to various hospitals, train stations, etc, trying to track Helene down. That scene is the key one where it does transcend The Vanishing though this isn’t the better film, that’s the moment where it does transcend its forebears and asserts its own identity. Perfectly captures the nihilism of a day spent on the drink,, and fuck the consequences. A day spent downing whiskies and beers and god knows what else and being in the room with Croats ranting down phones and Irish drunks (“Micky Finn” according to endcredits) who tell you “The Devil is on vacation with you” and Men On The Run with Tattoos On Their Wrists that you never see and we never see and who always always always keep one hand in their pocket.
19th October, 2004
[seen 18th October : Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne : public show]
by Neil Young