Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Hélène (Carole Bouquet) are driving from Paris to Bordeaux to pick up their children from summer camp. It is the holiday weekend and the roads are thick with traffic. The car radio sends alerts of traffic fatalities and delays, and the news of a dangerous fugitive at large. Antoine and Hélène have their own problems. Antoine, irritated by Hélène's lateness and pedantic manner, has been drinking and looks for any opportunity to stop by the roadside to have another scotch. Exasperated, Hélène warns Antoine she will leave the car and catch the train, if he stops again. He stops at a bar but when he returns to the car, she has vanished.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Red lights mean you must stop. Ignore them and you're in grave danger. There are plenty of red lights, both real and symbolic, in this adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel, and while it's a thriller by genre and a road movie by content, it's a love story by definition. But a savage one. It's pretty resistant to labels, though, even those stuck on it by film critics who see Hitchcock behind the wheel.
Whether true to the novel - and in what way - I cannot say, but as a film, it has a loaded story about a husband and wife intersected by a major coincidence that trumps the characters in a final reveal. (No, I won't reveal it.)
But what intrigues me most is the unresolved event in the opening scenes, the event which we believe drives the rest of Antoine's actions. He is waiting for Helene, his beautiful, high powered lawyer wife in a café (to drive to summer camp and pick up their two kids for a family summer break) and she's late. Business phone calls, she claims, but he sees her arrive across the intersection, getting out of a car with a man. His buoyant, loving mood turns to impotent, unspoken and repressed jealous anger. It makes him terse and drives him to drink unsafely, causing her to leave the car to take the train.
He is unsure whether she's hiding a betrayal, and this builds and enlarges his feelings of insignificance as a man, as a husband; hence the drinking. This in turn leads to the great coincidence on which the resolution pivots. But the film's edginess is retained by never revealing what if anything Helene was doing.
The film is a sum of its many minute, internal parts, all written on Jean-Pierre Darrousin's face.
Two great performances - the excellent Darroussin is hardly ever off the screen - working with an uncompromisingly well observed script about marital conflict make the film riveting, even if its occasional flaws are visible. Director Cédric Kahn's great achievement is the way he compresses tension into every scene, and his occasional ambiguity, leaving us to complete the picture in our head.
Review by Louise Keller:
Red symbolises danger, and Cédric Kahn's character-driven thriller Red Lights takes us into the ordered life of a resentful husband and his successful wife, as they journey by car to pick up their children from summer camp. Based on the novel by Belgian crime-writer Georges Simenon, the tension and angst is created by the intensity of emotions between the couple in the confined space of their car, as they bicker about small things. What begins as seemingly inconsequential differences, later evolves into a nightmare of life-changing proportions. There's music by Debussy, an alert of a dangerous fugitive at large, road blocks, flashing lights and a tall stranger with an ominous look.
Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is the epitome of the down-trodden husband. He is a little man with thinning hair who wears a constant look of exasperation. The subject of his irritation is his wife Hélène (Carole Bouquet) a self-assured corporate lawyer, who orchestrates their life. It is the summer holiday weekend, and Antoine is annoyed when Hélène is late. It is obviously not the first time. He has a beer, then another. By the time they are stuck in heavy traffic on the expressway, he has already had a couple of scotches, and they start snapping at one another. Slowly but surely, tension builds as Antoine stops several times on the pretext of buying petrol and having a comfort stop, when in fact the scotch he keeps drinking is fast becoming his armour. His thirst grows, and his tongue loosens as the car speeds off the main road and onto a back road shortcut. Hélène has had enough and tells him if he stops once more, she will leave him to his vices and catch the train.
Darroussin is in every scene and gives a wonderfully understated performance. It's as though Antoine is asking for trouble when he gives the stranger a lift. He sees the red lights flashing but living dangerously makes him feel more and more like the man he wishes he were. Life begins to skid dangerously as he gets himself into water that's far too deep and we fear the consequences. Twice Kahn surprises us by cutting away unexpectedly, leaving us to wonder. Even after his heroics, Antoine is again overshadowed by Hélène's experience, but by this time he has come to terms with himself and what is important.
Red Lights shines the torch on the dangers of marriage, when skid marks fling its participants in different directions. It's a gripping and powerful film that intrigues by the confluence of the mundane with the extraordinary.
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RED LIGHTS (M)
CAST: Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Carole Bouquet, Vincent Deniard, Charline Paul, Jean-Pierre Gos, Mylène Demongeot, Sava Lolov, Eric Moreau, Igor Skreblin
PRODUCER: Patrick Godeau
DIRECTOR: Cédric Kahn
SCRIPT: Laurence Ferreira Barbosa, Cédric Kahn, Gilles Marchand (novel by Georges Simenon)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Patrick Blossier
EDITOR: Yann Dedet
MUSIC: (non original) Claude Debussy
PRODUCTION DESIGN: François Abelanet
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney/Melbourne: February 17, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: AV Channel
VIDEO RELEASE: December 6, 2005