FILMS

A compelling nightmare

SCENE OF THE CRIME Directed by Andre Techine

April 20 1987
FILMS

A compelling nightmare

SCENE OF THE CRIME Directed by Andre Techine

April 20 1987

A compelling nightmare

FILMS

SCENE OF THE CRIME Directed by Andre Techine

At the beginning of Scene of the Crime, a young boy pedals his bicycle through the lush, sundappled French countryside until he comes upon a deserted shack. From that point onward, this elegantly sinister film conveys a constant sense of something dreadful about to happen. The boy, Thomas (Nicolas Giraudi), is accosted by Martin (Wadeck Stanczak), who the audience later discovers is one of two escaped criminals. Throttling the boy, Martin demands that Thomas return later with money; frightened, the boy demands cash from both his grandparents as well as his estranged mother, Lili (Catherine Deneuve), and his father, Maurice (Victor Lanoux). It is quickly apparent that Thomas, a 13year-old scheduled to make his First Communion the next day, is a troublemaker. He insults his elders, uses the foulest language he can think of, and lies to an almost pathological degree.

Beneath the bourgeois complacencies of the sleeping little village in Scene of the Crime lurks a repressed violence waiting to be unleashed. The catalysts are Martin and Luc, his fellow escapee. When Thomas returns with the money, Luc tries to choke the boy and is killed

by Martin. Dazed, Martin wanders into a discothèque on a lake run by Lili. Lonely and sexually frustrated, she is immediately drawn to the pallid, distracted young man.

Director Andre Techine fills his movie with insinuations that become increasingly explicit. The plot, which adds a jealous girlfriend of Martin’s who comes to his rescue, moves to a

bloody climax during a highly atmospheric rainstorm. More psychological thriller than conventional suspense, Scene of the Crime is serenely beautiful—Pascal Marti’s photography evokes French Impressionist painting—and is disturbing to watch. It is like a bad dream that becomes so fascinating that the dreamer is reluctant to wake.

What is most unnerving is the subtler violence within the family—cold looks, indifference, slaps in the face and harsh words. Unfortunately, the reasons for the estrangement of Lili and Maurice are unclear and the viewer is merely left with a vague, although powerful, sense of Lili’s terribly constricted life. “To be lost or saved,” she says, convinced that her life is meaningless, “there is no difference.”

On the face of it, Lili’s motivation is not entirely convincing, but Deneuve— an underrated actress—makes her a trapped, believable creature. Nicolas Giraudi brings to Thomas just the right combination of wounded and monstrous adolescence. But what is needed here is more background, which would allow the audience to understand how the family arrived in its sorry state. Viewers will have to be content with leafing through a nicely appointed, shocking family album, without accompanying commentaries.

THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS Directed by Herbert Ross

ichael J. Fox looks both uncomfortable and ridiculous as a business executive in The Secret of My Success. In fact, he hardly looks old enough to go to college. Currently one of Hollywood’s hottest properties, due to the success of his TV show (Family Ties) and movies (Back to the Future, Teen Wolf), Fox can write his own ticket. In The Secret of My Success, a comedy that inspires a yawn a minute, he chooses the ill-tailored role of Brantley Foster.

Brantley (at least the name is funny) is an incipient yuppie who arrives from Kansas to conquer New York City—only to discover that he has no job. He looks up his Uncle Howard (Richard Jordan), a top-echelon executive with the Pemrose Corporation, who starts him off in the mail room. But Brantley, too smart to be kept down on the farm in the first place, rises quickly to the top.

How he does that is a rather painful process—

not so much for Brantley, as for the audience.

Masquerading as an executive named Carlton Whitfield, the victim of a corporate purge,

Brantley takes over Whitfield’s empty office.

Then, playing Superman in the elevator, he quickly changes from mailroom uniform to executive dress. As Brantley, he is kept busy fending off the lascivious advances of his Aunt Vera (Margaret Whitton); as Carlton he tries to win the affections of the company’s sole woman executive, Christy Wills (Helen Slater).

Christy, meanwhile, is having an emotionally unsatisfying affair with Brantley’s uncle. By the end, through plot machinations that have only a passing acquaintance with reality, Brantley roosts at the top of the corporation and finds true love with Christy.

The viewer assumes Brantley and Christy will live happily ever after in workaholic bliss.

Because the characters bear little relation to actual human beings, it is perhaps unfair to lay all the blame at the feet of the actors. Fox, a likable but rather ordinary actor, is eminently watchable on a half-hour TV sitcom. But in a movie— particularly a bad one—he is like an appetizer stretched out to make do for a full meal. Helen Slater’s major talent seems to be the ability not to blink for long periods of time. A fine actor, Richard Jordan is wasted in the one-note role of Howard. His job is to snarl and be gruff, which he does very well. But Margaret Whitton, looking like a slimmed-down version of Bette Midler, is marvellous as the lecherous Vera.

The movie has been directed—perhaps organized is the better word—by Herbert Ross (Footloose) using the latest music video techniques of quick and flashy visuals accompanied by rhythmic pop songs that nearly all sound alike. And whenever Ross runs out of inspiration, which is often, he cuts to a picture-postcard shot of New York’s skyline—the ultimate symbol of conquest. The Secret Of My Success appeals to the current conventional wisdom that being a workaholic guarantees not only money and power but plenty of sex and romance as well. It is a fairy tale for yuppies.

STREET SMART

Directed by Jerry Schatzberg

Fast, gritty and tight, Street Smart quickly lures its audience into the sleazy New York underworld of procurers and prostitutes. Jonathan Fisher (Christopher Reeve), a journalist for a glossy, upscale magazine similar to New York, is drawn to the dangerous magnetism of sex for sale on the streets. Hungry for a hot story, he begs his editor Ted Avery (Andre Gregory) to let him write a day in the life of a Times Square pimp. When Avery grudgingly approves the assignment, the naïve and inexperienced Jonathan discovers that no one, including a sympathetic hooker named Punchy (Kathy Baker), will talk to him about business. On deadline, and desperate for media stardom, Jonathan assumes that there is not much difference between truth and fiction—and makes up his own story, with its own glamorized pimp named Tyrone.

In fact, truth and fiction do comingle here. The film’s screenwriter, David Freeman, once wrote for New York. As well, according to its current film critic, David Denby, Freeman concocted a similar article some years

ago. If the script is Freeman’s act of atonement, he certainly is harsh on himself. The profile of Tyrone makes Jonathan a media star; he is even lured away to work for more money in TV news. But a district attorney thinks that Tyrone is in fact a procurer named Fast Black (Morgan Freeman), who is being prosecuted for murder. It is here that Street Smart begins to look contrived. Fast Black forces Jonathan to provide him with an alibi for the crime and soon Jonathan is trapped in his lie, with lives, including his own, at stake.

Christopher Reeve has never been better cast than as the spineless Jonathan, an overachiever as glib as he is bland. As Fast Black, Morgan Freeman is mean and memorable, the kind of pimp who would sell his mother to the first interested client. He sweettalks the women who work for him, but they know he would slit their throats in a second if they crossed him. In one gripping scene he tells Punchy that he is going to take out one of her eyes and forces her to tell him which one he can have. Next to him, Jonathan’s sin of dishonesty pales in comparison.

Street Smart has a pulsing rhythm to it, but it is the kind of rhythm that, in New York City, always spells danger. Director Jerry Schatzberg, who is no stranger to Manhattan’s lower depths (The Panic in Needle Park), never loses sight of the streets’ gutter glitter. The film stretches the audience’s anxieties to the point where the world of the streets becomes utterly fearsome. In that respect, David Freeman has told the absolute truth. □