Red Lights
Wellspring // Unrated // $29.98 // March 22, 2005
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted April 3, 2005
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Helene (Carol Bouquet- That Obscure Object of Desire, Lucie Aubrac) and her husband Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darrdussin- A Very Long Engagement) are a well off couple- Helene is a valued member of a law firm and Antoine is a more typical office dreg at an insurance company. A weekend trip to pick up their children from summer camp gets off to a rocky start. A seething Antoine takes his increasingly hard to hide shame of feeling emasculated by his more productive wife and has a stiff drink when her back is turned. Their marital strife leads to some road trip tension and bickering that intensifies throughout the day. When Antoine defies his wife and stops at a roadside bar, he emerges to find her gone, left in her place is a note saying that she is taking the train.

Stopping at nearly every bar he comes across, a blindly drunken Antoine revels in his freedom. But, during their daytime travels he and his wife barely paid notice to radio reports of an escaped con on the loose. At one bar, Antoine picks up a hulking, intense looking hitchhiker... and, well, that is where the film really starts going, and I'm not about to hint at any more details. Suffice to say, it'll be a night to remember.

Very much in the vein of French suspense master Claude Chabrol, Red Lights could be called a kitchen sink thriller or a bourgeois film noir. The payoff is not in what physically happens to the characters but the emotional after affects of twisted fate on an already dysfunctional couple. Only the dimmest of viewers will fail to guess the trauma that will happen to the couple, but that is not the point. The real tension comes from not knowing how an already fragile character will react to the nightmarish night. Rather then rely on grandstanding or some extreme setup, Red Lights gets the most out of the little details, the nuance. It really says a lot that one of the films tenser scenes involves a protracted bit of phone calling, just a man and phone, and some yellow page detective skills.

Solid all around. Director Cedric Khan is assured and has a reliable support team for this psychological suspense flick. The cast is pitch perfect. The story largely follows Antoine, thus the film rests on Jean-Pierre Darrdussin's shoulders, and he proves to have the spine to support it. Cinematographer Patrick Blossier has lensed everything from Jeg Lag, My Father the Hero, to The Chambermaid on the Titanic. Finally, the film was adapted from a story by the insanely prolific novelist Georges Simenon, who had over 400 books published before his death.

The DVD: Wellspring.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The print is flaw free, not a speck in sight. Unfortunately, in general, all of the major areas are a hair away from being perfect. That is, sharpness is a it is a bit on the soft side, the contrast is a tad flat, and the color details are a tad pale. It ends up getting a b-grade, and you need look no further than the trailer to see how much crisper and fine tuned the image could appear. Some slight noise reduction is also present.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo, French language with optional English subtitles. The score is very traditional and utilizes Debussy compositions. The rest, audio fx and dialogue is all clean and clear with decent mixing.

Extras: Filmographiesó Trailer, plus Wellspring Trailer gallery and weblinks.

Conclusion: Red Lights is an arthouse suspense film with a surgical efficiency, a thriller that is set on simmer. Wellspring skimped on the extras. Both the French and UK releases offer up interviews and featurettes, and it is a shame Wellspring didn't put int the extra effort to include even just a few of these features. Red Lights is a solid rental or casual purchase for foreign cinephiles looking for some cerebral suspense.



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