Sombre | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sombre 

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The sky grows almost imperceptibly darker in each successive shot of a car traveling along a mountain road, while a subtle progression of camera angles places us simultaneously inside the car and at impossible vantage points outside it. With the help of a minimal yet realist sound track, this brief sequence establishes a contemplative mood as familiar as it is idiosyncratic, and we no longer expect or even want characters or a plot--it doesn't seem to matter who's in the car, where it's going or why. Cut to a head-on montage of seated screaming kids, reacting as if to a horror or action movie--they're egging someone on, warning someone else to watch out. Immediately we know that the movie we're watching is a comment on what they're watching--and something more metaphorical and more universal. Not many directors can inspire the kind of trust Philippe Grandrieux earns in the first two "scenes" of this 1998 movie, and it's a good thing he earns it up front. For now a "conventional" story begins--the one the kids are watching?--in which one female character after another presents her genitalia to us and an on-screen sadist and murderer within moments of meeting him. Seeming not at all suspicious or particularly aroused, the women do whatever he says until they're dead. As he stands near the discarded body of his latest victim, he becomes an empathic character by default--he's the only one in the narrative at that moment. The sadist hasn't yet met the woman who might break the pattern of his behavior, that is, "save" him, but soon he'll meet a woman--the only potential victim who hasn't had sex before she meets him--who will instead share the role of protagonist. A reimagining of stalker-movie conventions that suggests the guilt--and the innocence--of all the characters, male and female, this antithriller also suggests the complicity of everyone in the way real people sometimes behave. Sexual encounters resulting in murder may be statistically rare compared to those resulting simply in regret, but the feminist argument that holds a woman at least partly responsible for her own objectification is impossible to dismiss. Grandrieux wrote the screenplay with Pierre Hodgson and Sophie Fillieres; with Marc Barbe, Elina Lowensohn, and Geraldine Voillat. 112 min. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Sunday, December 3, 5:00, and Thursday, December 7, 9:00, 773-281-4114.

--Lisa Alspector

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