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With: Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Carole Bouquet, Vincent Deniard, Carline Paul, Jean-Pierre Gos
Written by: Cédric Kahn, Laurence Ferreira-Barbosa, based on a novel by Georges Simenon
Directed by: Cédric Kahn
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 106
Date: 02/10/2004

Red Lights (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Road Bleary

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many films, novels and plays have explored the nature of imploding relationships, but Cédric Kahn's Red Lights begins by telling the story of a couple as their relationship comes to a head while stuck in weekend traffic. Midway, it carefully evolves into a struggle for masculinity and male freedom.

The film gets its fuel from quiet details. Antoine, played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Same Old Song, La Bûche, The Town Is Quiet), and his wife Hélène, played by the wonderful Carole Bouquet (That Obscure Object of Desire, For Your Eyes Only), hit the road on a busy Friday afternoon to pick up their children from summer camp. They agree to meet at a bar. Hélène is late. Antoine has a few beers. They hit the road. Antoine stops for another drink. They get lost. Antoine stops again, but Hélène threatens to take the train. When Antoine returns, his wife is gone.

We might think nothing of this, except that Kahn has peppered these seemingly insignificant events with news reports of an escaped killer.

Kahn's last film to receive U.S. distribution, the 1998 film L'ennui, employed a vaguely similar theme. A writer (Charles Berling) becomes obsessed with a beautiful and much younger model (Sophie Guillemin); much to the writer's frustration, the model remains a complete cipher throughout, never once showing the slightest emotion one way or the other.

Like Red Lights, L'ennui deals with ambiguity and fear of the unknown. Red Lights keeps the unknown mostly off-screen, which makes it a bit easier to digest than its predecessor, but also more enjoyable.

Of course, both Antoine and Hélène meet up with the escaped killer, but events never transpire as one would expect from a more conventional thriller. The film spends a great deal of time on the aftermath, as Antoine frantically tries to track down his missing wife.

The movie's greatest scene shows Antoine merely making a series of phone calls -- police, hospitals, etc. -- with a friendly waitress giving him advice. The camera rarely strays from Antoine's feverish face as he continually dials, hangs up, frets and dials again. But each call leads to the next, and a story slowly builds out of the scene.

An ordinary movie would have resulted in either a victory or a death, but Red Lights dares to go the harder route, giving us a difficult reconciliation between brutally battered survivors. Life isn't any easier after an encounter like this but it certainly makes one stronger.

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