INTO THE WOODS—that arboreal enclave has symbolized either evil or good for most of literary and cinematic history. The forest path leads to subconscious expressions of cannibalism and mortality in Hansel and Gretel (generally attributed to the Brothers Grimm), which Fran篩s Ozon restages here in a thoroughly contemporary but tongue-in-cheek manner. His deadpan style is intended to draw condescending snickers at the absurd proceedings, even as they hint, fairy tale-like, at deeper emotional subcurrents. Viewers of his 1998 film Sitcom will recall a similarly bald juxtaposition of sex and comedy; repression always makes for easy laughs.
written and directed by Fran缯I>ois Ozon
with Natacha R駮ier, J鲩mie Renier, and Miki Manojlovic
runs August 18-24 at Varsity
Initially, however, there's nothing funny as two French teenagers brutally murder a beautiful fellow classmate. Ozon doesn't present any context for the killing (that comes later, in flashbacks); the kids seem as empty of conscience or motivation as their crime spree counterparts in Badlands. They flee and become lost in the wilderness, then fall captive to a mysterious unnamed woodsman (Miki Manojlovic) who imprisons them in his cellar as a future meal—or so he threatens. Will they escape? And do these baby-faced killers even deserve to escape?
As Ozon gradually fills in more of his story, issues of control and captivity begin to explain the behavior of its protagonists Alice and Luc (played by Natacha R駮ier of The Dreamlife of Angels and J鲩mie Renier). "Do it for me, Luc, for love," she goads him, but their love life has problems greater than a mere thrill-killing can redress. They seem more like 17-year-old virgins playacting sex games (and roles) than real adults. The hairy, taciturn woodsman, however, is all grown up, an apparent brute who initiates the kids into the real world of sex and death—in contrast to their puerile fantasies. (Ozon pointedly swells the cheesy romantic music to comment on his lovers' grand, unrealizable yearnings, especially during one memorably funny Disney-style erotic interlude.)
These callow youths can't be taken too seriously in the end, and Ozon's admirably short, economical film doesn't belabor its themes. That's also because Criminal Lovers doesn't have many themes. Complicating the usual stereotypical notions of innocence and perversity isn't that difficult. Accordingly, Ozon doesn't offer a realistic style of tragedy or romance, and seems content to render the frisson between fairy-tale structure and our knowingly sexualized modern sensibilities. The resulting hybrid film has the obviousness of a one-joke comedy, yet some of the feverish intensity of a dream.