Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Red Lights

Reviews - Red Lights

Red Lights

Reviewed By Darren Horne

The French are renowned for intellectualising cinema and identifying it as an area of artistic merit, with films such as À Bout de Souffle, Belle de Jour, and more recently the enchanting Amélie, providing examples of the pinnacle of film making.

Expectations can be high, as they were with Feux Rouges, and it can be easy to be disappointed.

The narrative follows a married couple’s journey to pick up their two children from summer camp. Helene (Carole Bouquet) is beautiful and intelligent and is a hit at the law firm where she works, but her husband Antoine (Jean Pierre Darroussin) is less successful and attractive, leaving him with feelings of impotency which he deals with by drinking.

This offering from our Gallic neighbours has left me with a desire to sign the petition to fill in the Channel Tunnel immediately. I have been violently offended by this film. I consider myself a modern man, unthreatened by powerful women, I have a willingness to talk about my emotions, I even shed a tear at the end of Titanic. But when confronted with a drink-driving caveman that harbours a desire to beat his chest and reinstate some prehistoric superiority over his wife, I can only be insulted

The insult is not the fault of the cast; Darroussin’s enchanting performance is particularly impressive, perfectly portraying the levels of inebriation, at times humorous, always pitiful. It is not his drinking that annoys, as Dudley Moore’s Arthur and Richard E Grant’s Withinail show, drunks can be hilarious. It is the response of those around the drunk that are both bewildering and frustrating. Bars next to the motorway continue to serve the drunken Antoine, and he coasts through a police roadblock with ease.

The night time cinematography is surreal and beautiful, perfectly expressing the hypnotic quality of road markings and headlights that can easily enthral the unwary driver. This is heightened by a fairy-tale quality that is given to some of the nocturnal motorway encounters.

The director does manage to build up tension, and the first half of the film is gripping as we search for the answers for Antoine’s drinking and sympathise with his plight as he is continuously kept waiting by his wife. Their relationship is interesting at this stage, primarily because we are intrigued why Helene has settled for the unhappy and unpleasant Antoine.
Unfortunately the film deteriorates quickly from then on, never knowing quite what it wants to say. The only message that does come through clearly is a rather unpleasant one regarding equality between the sexes in a contemporary world.

Antoine’s journey is one of discovery as he searches for his identity as a man. This is emphasised by his disregard for authority by speeding and drink driving, causing his wife to get the train. His attempts to bond with other men and his rants about brotherhood seem laughable, but also dangerous, as shown in the tense scene in which he picks up a hitchhiker. The film continues to irritate when Antoine realises that the hitchhiker is a wanted killer, but looks up to him because he is a “real man” and does not bow down to anyone. By allowing Antoine to kill this murderer in self-defence the audience is told that it is in combat that men become real men, in this case Antoine regains his masculine power. He becomes the warrior.

Helene is still strong though, and in order to put her “back in her place” and to restore Antoine’s masculinity fully, Helene has to be stripped of her power by the last weapon of degradation that man has against woman. The rape revelation allows Antoine to return to his shattered and broken spouse and be a pillar of strength, taking his “rightful” place as master of the household and removing any guilt he would feel at taking another man’s life, as he can view it as revenge for the violation of his wife.

Is this a comment on the modern man? Are we still in an age in which men are so threatened by equality that we want to revert to some archaic time where the phallus rules over all?

The cinematography is impressive in parts, the characters are believable and there are moments of genuine humour, but it is uneven, with plot holes and distracting suggestions about infidelity and conspiracy theories.

As a literary adaptation it suffers from the lack of a strong captain at the helm, who also appears to have been intimidated by the source material. It lacks clarity of storytelling, and bumbles between a cinematic experience and the representation of a literary one. Feux rouges remains an immensely irritating film that portrays a man who has no place in today’s society.

Score 2/5

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