Based on Georges Simenon’s black comedy Red Lights, Cédric Kahn’s latest finds an elaborate metaphor for a man’s frustrated existence in the highway he and his wife must travel in order to pick up their children at summer camp. The film’s dreamy opening sequence suggests a community cultivating inside a petri dish. Just as the elaborate floor plan of a building evokes dangerous lines of division, so does the traffic outside the many windows in the film. For sure, the world is a dangerous place in Red Lights, particularly on this summer day when radio and television waves are clogged with reports of traffic accidents, death tolls, and a prison escape. Throughout their journey, Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Helene (Carole Bouquet) wear at each other’s last nerve. With every swerve in the road, Kahn forces the panicked couple to confront their problems head-on, but the pit stops in the film are more revealing. Though Antoine uses these “time outs” to liquor up, these moments become unexpectedly tender gateways into the couple’s past, and via a series of conversations he has with strangers, Antoine’s love for his wife expresses itself (it’s even in the shot of a fake cow hanging upside down from a ceiling, which seemingly reminds him of a time when Helene had to peel him off the floor). Imagine the final reel of Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl spread out to an impossibly long 106 minutes, except the road trip Kahn orchestrates here is less sinister than maddeningly absurd. Both Breillat and Kahn toy with the sensation of horror (not to mention that inexplicable allure of a road accident), but where Breillat traffics in sexual initiation, Kahn trades in marital discord. After one particularly intense rest stop, Helene ditches Antoine and the film’s tone grows considerably more anxious. A pathetic Antoine’s separation anxiety is a sight to behold, and it leads to a brutal confrontation in the woods with a hitchhiker who may have already crossed paths with his wife. The coincidence that links Antoine and Helene to the hitchhiker isn’t ponderous because Kahn refuses to linger on it for very long, but it does give way to a silly bit of preachifying. Just as you shouldn’t stray from the road, Kahn seems to advise that this couple shouldn’t stray from marriage. But despite its maddening evocation of lives spiraling out of control, Red Lights is still only a half-success, not so much because we never ride with Helene as long as we do with Antoine, but because Kahn feels that her brutalization somehow intensifies the couple’s reunion. In the end, you have to wonder whether the bit of redemptive business that closes the film exists more for their benefit or the audience’s own sick pleasure.
- 106 min
- Cédric Kahn
- Laurence Ferreira-Barbosa, Cédric Kahn, Gilles Marchand
- Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Carole Bouquet, Vincent Deniard, Carline Paul, Jean-Pierre Gos, Mylène Demongeot, Sava Lolov, Eric Moreau, Igor Skreblin
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