Dec 22, 2013

Sombre




I am not a diehard serial killer fetishist or anything, but Sombre (1998)—an experimental work directed by French auteur Philippe Grandrieux (A New Life aka La vie nouvelle, Un Lac) about a violent serial killer/rapist of the perennially lonely sort who falls in love with a woman for the first time in his entire life—is easily one of the most darkly romantic and disturbingly beauteous films I have ever seen. Directed by an ex-video artist loosely associated with the so-called ‘New French Extremity’ movement, Sombre is a work of aesthetically majestic yet paradoxically minimalistic metaphysical horror depicting an innately impenetrable antihero living in a glacial zeitgeist who is provoked to rape and murder simply by being merely touched by a member of the fairer sex. Slaughtering sluts, prostitutes, and other wanton women along the frog countryside, the angst-ridden antihero of Sombre faces the most unsettling prospect of his entire life when a beauteous virgin falls in love with him and vice versa. A perturbing and penetrating love story for the foreboding age of Occidental decline, Sombre ultimately portrays the impossibility of love in our contemporary times where most Europeans think children are a nuance and marriage is looked at as a mere business transaction. The slightly saner yet more melancholy son of Gerald Kargl’s Angst (1983) and the more cultivated yet crazed celluloid big brother of Jörg Buttgereit’s nihilistic kraut serial flick Schramm (1994), Sombre is the cinematic cream of the crop when it comes to films about sexually dysfunctional and sadistic human predators. Directed by a filmmaker who has cited the films of F.W. Murnau, Robert Bresson, Stan Brakhage, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, as well as the writings of philosophers ranging from Marcus Aurelius to Gilles Deleuze, as major influences, Sombre is a Weltschmerz-rattled and cognitive-dissidence-straddled neo-fairytale in the lunatic libertine spirit of Michael Stock’s Prince in Hell (1993) aka Prinz in Hölleland about a serial killer who acts as a puppet-master both on and off stage and who does whatever he wants, with whoever he wants, whenever he wants, so when his power is tested by the proposition of the uncontrollable—love, human warmth, and sexual ecstasy—he must come to terms with the little bit of ‘humanity’ he has left. A delectably deranging and discombobulating cinematic work that dares the viewer to dig deep in the decidedly dark abyss of a damaged mind that is attempting to persevere in the face of undying psychological sickness and plaguing pathology, Sombre ultimately seems like a serial killer flick that was directed by an actual (and rather quite sensitive) serial killer, as a sort of esoteric arthouse celluloid equivalent to Moors Murderer Ian Brady's book The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and Its Analysis (2001). 




 Nordic frog Jean (Marc Barbé) is a man that certainly knows how to make children laugh and cheer wildly but he is also a curiously fucked fellow who knows how to make a woman scream for her life. Set in the French countryside during the Tour de France, Sombre follows the seemingly most somber man in rural frogland as he gives puppet shows to standing ovations of children, picks up prostitutes and ritualistically rapes and murders them with his bare hands, and eventually bumps into the seemingly most somber woman in rural frogland, thus offering him a rare chance at personal redemption. Jean has a very specific routine when it comes to raping and killing women that involves him making the unsuspecting victim strip bare while blindfolded and forcing them to spread their legs a couple inches from his face. Indeed, Jean stares at a woman’s naughty bits as if putting ‘pussy on a pedestal’, but at the same time he does not seem to know what to do with it, as if he is an impotent pedantic scientist taking a theoretical approach to sex. It seems that due to impotence and pent up sexual frustration, Jean can only derive of sense of solace and sexual release by strangling sluts to death. One day, gentleman Jean's view of life, love, and humanity is forever changed when he goes driving and offers to give a ride to a chick named Claire (Romanian Jewess Elina Löwensohn) whose car has just broken down. Unlike the lecherous ladies he typically picks up, Claire is a sensitive virgin who seems to suffer from a perennial form of sadness, as if she was once internally wounded and the scars failed to heal. Claire has a sister named Christine (Géraldine Voillat) who, on top of being a pseudo-blonde bimbo, is rather extroverted, especially in comparison to her somber sis. In between strangling to death prostitutes, Jean begins hanging out with both Claire and Christine. While Christine does everything she can to grab Jean’s warped gaze, including incessant skinny dipping, he only has eyes for Claire. One day whilst swimming at the lake, Jean decides enough is enough when it comes to Christine’s never-ending nakedness and starts strangling the loose lady and only stops just shy of killing her, which naturally perturbs Claire. After getting involved in a bizarre failed threesome in a seedy motel room that mainly involves Jean tying up the girls in bondage and smacking them around like slaves, Claire decides to help her sister escape by her putting on a train to paris, though she stays with the serial killer as she seems to believe she can save him from himself. As two terribly lonely and decidedly damaged individuals whose ‘faults’ seem to complement one another, Jean and Claire inevitably fall in love and somewhat attempt to become a real couple. In fact, Jean even makes passionate love to virgin Claire and thus he also loses his ‘vanilla sex’ virginity. Of course, Jean and Claire cannot last as a romantic entity as the former has a lust for brutality and the latter does not want to become a victim of the former’s lust for brutality. Since he truly loves her and is afraid of what he might do to her in the future, Jean rather reluctantly yet swiftly pushes Claire away by telling her to “get lost” and “vanish” after the two make passionate love, thus displaying love and mercy for another person for the first time in his loser life as god’s most lonely man. 




 A sort of tastefully sordid postmodern neo-fairytale (in one rather symbolic scene, Claire find and puts on a ‘Big Bad Wolf’ costume owned by Jean) told in a purely visual and mood-driven style reminiscent of the great poetic works of silent cinema (F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) certainly comes to mind), Sombre is easily one of the most strangely touching and singularly romantic films I have ever seen and unlike a film like Dahmler (2002) starring Jeremy Renner, Grandrieux actually manages to work in its unflinching ‘humanization’ of a sadistic serial killer. Indeed, in the end, antihero Jean of Sombre seems even more genuinely pathetic than Peter Lorre did in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). Additionally, Jean of Sombre does not seem like a cinematic caricature like Lorre in M, but more like a seemingly normal fellow who, if the viewer did not know any better, has something slightly off about him that one cannot quite pinpoint and that is what makes Grandrieux's work such a delectably disturbing piece of ‘humanistic horror.’ In the end, Sombre seems more like a romantic tragedy than anything else in its daunting depiction of two discernibly damaged soul-mates who might have been able to live a long life of mutual beauty with one another had it not been for each characters’ respective ‘hang-ups.’ A ‘thinking man’s serial killer flick’ that will surely bore the hell out of the sort of horror fanatic that gets an almost pornographic thrill from seeing the likes of slasher killers like Michael Myers and Leatherface in action, Sombre is a sort of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) for those cinephiles who enjoy reading Schopenhauer over Fangoria. Such a viewer dividing work that it inspired those running the 1998 Locarno Film Festival to release the following official statement, “Half of the jury would like to call attention to Sombre. Our jury split between those who were morally offended by the film and those who saw a purpose in its darkness, and in the strength of its mise-en-scene and images,” Sombre is a true love story for a pre-apocalyptic age that has become disillusioned with love, and a zestless zeitgeist where men prefer porn and whores and where women prefer careers and cuckolds to actual true love and romance. Featuring an inconspicuously complimentary score by Alan Vega (frontman of the electronic protopunk duo Suicide), as well as a strange appearance by the classic Bauhaus song “Bela Lugosi's Dead,” Sombre is a fiercely foreboding work dripping with atmosphere that offers the filmgoer more than just a mere film, but an oneiric celluloid odyssey that totally transcends most people’s comfort zones. Auteur Philippe Grandrieux’s first ‘official’ feature film (though he has been making video art and instillations since the 1980s), Sombre may be a majorly melancholy work that pricks and prods at the soul without mercy, but it is also ample evidence that film as an artistic medium is far from dead and that some cinematic territories have only been marginally explored. Indeed, if you thought David Fincher made the serial killer film a respectable subgenre with big budget and superficially stylized melodramatic swill like Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007), you have yet to be metaphysically touched by a cinematic manhunter in the way that only Grandrieux’s Sombre does. 



-Ty E

11 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Such a shame that he supposedly drew cinematic inspiration from the likes of Murnau, Bres-daughter, and Fassbinder, they`re all bloody faggots. Stan Brakhage was OK though because he was heterosexual.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, i was thinking back to Christmas of `88, it was a difficult time because it was the first Christmas without Heather, and then with what would`ve been her 13th birthday two days later that made it even more difficult, i really wasn`t able to enjoy Christmas of `88, it was literally like all the lights on the Christmas tree had gone out.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I watched "Mad Max 2" (1981) the other day, the last 20 minutes of that film is the ONLY truly great and memorable sequence that the Australian film industry has ever produced, still thats at least one more than the British film industry has ever produced ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I watched "Brain Dead" (1992) the other day, the last 30 minutes of that film is the ONLY truly great sequence that the New Zealand film industry has ever produced, still thats at least one more than the British film industry has ever produced ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

December 27th still gets to me ya` know that Ty E, i`m not saying it still completely spoils my Christmas 26 years on, but it still gets to me, that was Heathers special day.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, you`ll be needing the 300 gram ($15) box of Lindt chocolates for you and your girlfriend on Christmas day, that box really displays the brilliance of the Lindt master choclatiers at their brilliant best (as it were).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, i whole-heartedly agree that "Seven" and "Zodiac" were both horse-shit.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

If only that geezer could`ve moved over to the left a bit, then we would`ve been able to see that gorgeous blond birds twat ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I like the picture of them getting out of the water because the gorgeous bird is completely naked (as ALL gorgeous birds should be ALL the time ! ! !) but the geezer is still wearing an article of clothing (thankfully), i wish ALL porn could be like that as well, then there would be a %100 guarantee that nothing would ever spoil your wank ! ! !.

MKS said...

My favorite Grandrieux film. You conveyed its somnambulistic tone very nicely, Ty. The shots of the car on the road have remained with me.

I'd love a beautiful BluRay of this.

I did not like next film, LA VIE NOUVELLE, but I do have a soft spot for UN LAC.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, you really fancy that Elina Lowensohn bird dont you ! ?.