by Greg Muskewitz
Taking a creative twist on an old tale, or mix of them, is a nice fresh starting point.François Ozon, who directed the horrible Water Drops on Burning Rocks, which was adapted by Ozon from R.W. Fassbinder's stage play, does a much better job with Criminal Lovers, and that may be the case because he actually gets to write this twisted fairy tale himself. A demented young girl, Alice (Natacha Régnier) --as in Wonderland, is in the process of making her own web of deceit, as she gets the studly guy (Jeremie Renier) who is infatuated with her, to help her murder an Arabic guy (Salim Kechiouche) that she's been toying around with. They go to bury his body in the woods, and break into a cabin there. Up until this point, it has been "Hansel and Gretal," and shifts gears into a "Jack and the Bean Stalk" type of captivity when the old man/hermit (Miki Manojlovic) discovers their trespass. She's locked beneath the house in a corpse and rat infested "dungeon." The boy is admitted up to help cook or slave away, or, be used as the hermit's sexual toy. The boy, who was hitherto impotent to any of Alice's sexual advances, is able to "come" for the hermit. There's a lot of excitement and tension to Criminal Lovers, and the originality and uniqueness that Ozon goes about it in his "cracked" or "fractured fairy tales" way, makes it adventurous and worthwhile. The film is gorgeously shot, and through a mixture of perfect lighting, adept tracking shots and simplistic, yet just right sets, the film reaches a great technical compilation. There is a strong element of eroticism in Criminal Lovers that was most absent from Burning Rocks. Ozon still only goes to the halfway mark with sex, playing it all up as a tease, but only sensationistically. Régnier is quite attractive, albeit small-breasted, but still the salacious minion. Ozon's tantalizing usage of her is perfect because it leaves the audience hungry for more. The sexual overtones, like in Sitcom, is so much more readable and forgivable. Another one of the biggest reasons Water Drops on Burning Rocks is because of its isolation and seclusion from the outside world. There were only four characters --not even extras. Criminal Lovers had the intrigue and compelling atmosphere; it knew when to play seclusion and when to become elsewhere involved. The suspense elements are well placed and not over-played, and the wet, luscious colors used, help embellish the surrealistic fairy tale.Final Verdict: A-.
"Unique storytelling with visual splendor."
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originally posted: 01/13/01 09:25:11