Red Lights (Feux Rouges)

Directed by Cedric Kahn
Showing at FACT from Friday 22 October

Reviewed by Tim Kopp

Cedric Kahn’s Simenon adaptation is well-acted and observed and has atmosphere in spades but sadly loses its way in the final 30 minutes. (**1/2 out of five)

Antoine and Helene Dunan prepare for a weekend trip to relatives in the Bosque country, planning to pick up their children who are in a summer camp in Bordeaux. Tensions arise as they get stuck in a traffic jam, arguing over the best possible route, and he starts accusing her of neglecting him and their kids for her career. Stopping several times at bars off the motorway, Antoine returns to find that she is gone to take the train. While trying to catch up with her, Antoine gives a lift to a stranger he has met in a bar before. Soon he is plagued by doubts whether his passenger may not be a convict on the run.

Adapted from a Georges Simenon novel and underscored by Debussy, Red Lights initially appears to be showing us the gradual breakdown of a marriage: Antoine is clearly suspicious of, and irritated by his wife, and Kahn successfully develops an atmosphere of increasing tension between the couple who get exasperated by the boredom of the road. With Helene’s disappearance, the film shifts into thriller territory, adding a sense of urgency and unease to the events, while expanding on its leitmotif of Antoine’s self-destruction. This culminates in a gripping, climatic confrontation in the woods but with half an hour to go, it also leaves us with an uncomfortably drawn out resolution to the story that negates the pace and suspense the director had managed to maintain up to that point. In particular the scene with Antoine’s feverish attempts to trace his wife’s whereabouts is admittedly effective in conveying his agony but at the same time it also goes on for a good deal too long. The ending, too disappoints in that the characters’ recovery from their ordeal is too smooth and comes too soon to satisfy, let alone to be credible. One suspects that the film would have benefited from a more complex and poignant resolution. What we are left with, is a thriller and morality tale that grips and disappoints in equal measure.