I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year break. I certainly did. But now it’s 2011, and after a short break WHYS…? is back, and ready to continue to recommend you films from the more obscure and under explored corners of the cinematic landscape. Over the next 52 weeks we’ll look at films from all over the world, from across many decades and from as many genres as possible.
If you’ve seen, or subsequently see, any of the films I mention, or if you’ve got a suggestion for a film that I should feature on WHYS…? in the future then we’d love to hear from you in the comments, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Director: Cedric Kahn
What’s It All About?
The film is based, though I’m not certain quite how faithfully, on the real case of the eponymous Roberto Succo (played, in his debut role, by Stefano Casssetti). Succo murdered his parents in 1981, and 1986 escaped the mental institution where he was held and went to France, where he carried out a series of apparently motiveless kidnappings, rapes and murders. The film also focuses on a relationship Succo had with a teenage girl he met in France (played by Isild LeBesco)
Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Though quite a few French films cross the channel each year, only a handful ever break out of the arthouse ghetto, and this wasn’t one of them. It’s also a tough sell, films about serial killers aren’t terribly mainstream to begin with, and especially not when they are as understated and, well, as French, as this one.
Why Should You See It?
David Fincher’s Zodiac was praised for its restraint, and for the way it focused more on people than on the sensationalism of the crimes it depicted. Well, Roberto Succo got there first. If you have to pigeonhole the film then it fits within the serial killer genre, but, though it has clearly drawn influence from all three, this is not Badlands, or Natural Born Killers, or Henry. To some degree it’s a study in the mundanity of both crime and investigation. The film doesn’t seem to know why Succo does what he does (driving up and down France with no particular plan or purpose, nonchalantly committing his crimes as he goes), nor for that matter does Succo seem to know. Many explanations are offered, but each new one contradicts all the others, until the tissue of lies is so many layers thick that even he doesn’t seem able to tear through it.
A part like this would be a challenge for even an experienced actor, let alone a first timer like Cassetti, and that’s even before you take into account that he has to perform in fluent French as well as his native Italian. Cassetti is brilliant. He can play the affable guy at the bar who attracts Isild LeBesco, but he’s also chillingly believable as the controlling partner in that relationship, and as a ruthless criminal. Much of it is in the eyes; huge, seldom blinking, pin sharp blue, and utterly devoid of emotion, when Kahn focuses on Cassetti’s eyes, that’s when the film is at its most frightening. Isild LeBesco (also making her debut) is equally excellent as Succo’s naïve girlfriend Lea, especially good is the contrast she manages between the carefree 16 year old of her first few scenes and the more jaded girl we see when she’s interrogated at the end of the film.
Unlike in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, we do see the Police in Roberto Succo, chiefly an inspector named Thomas (Patrick Dell’Isola), who begins to put together the patterns in Succo’s apparently random crimes. Like Zodiac, these sequences dwell in the day to day graft of police work, and this really gives you a sense of both the investigation and the dedication of Thomas in particular.
It perhaps doesn’t sound like Roberto Succo is going to be compelling at all, after all it is light on action and even the crimes (except for a few kidnap sequences, which are extremely claustrophobic and uncomfortable) are largely left off screen, but it’s the growing insight into the increasingly unbalanced Succo that is truly riveting, the boiling intensity of Cassetti’s performance, and Kahn’s scrupulously realistic direction. The film doesn’t quite have a documentary look, but it feels disturbingly realistic at times, especially in the kidnap scenes, thanks to fantastic performances all round (special notice should go to Estelle Perron and Viviana Aliberti as the two victims with the largest roles). At the end of the film answers remain thin on the ground, and that’s perhaps Robero Succo’s most disturbing truth; sometimes there are no answers.
If you’re a fan of Zodiac then I can highly recommend this film. If you like your movie serial killers to employ Rube Goldbreg devices, tell you exactly what their motive is, and off their victims in splashily bloody ways, it’s really not for you.
How Can You See It?
The UK DVD seems to be the best choice; it boasts a decent transfer and a commentary by Kahn (which I must get round to listening to) and you should be able to get a decent price on it if you shop around.