In CRIMINAL LOVERS you collide the world's violent reality with the fantasy and symbolism of fairy tales. It's a daring project ...
The idea of this story came to me from a passion for both crime stories and fairytales. I wanted to combine two genres: a crime film inspired by headlines mixed with the fairy tale, mostly a literary genre. Normally they oppose one another. One is rooted in reality and the other in a fantastic and symbolic universe. Nevertheless, they both have the same dark side, often the same themes -- murder, abandonment, incest, suicide ... Fairy tales arouse the same kind of fascination in both adults and children. These stories, real or imaginary, speak to us intimately about our doubts, our fears and our worries. Furthermore, everyone has his or her favorite fairy tale, which says something about the individual's personality.
Fairy tales always begin with concrete situations ...
In my favorite fairy tale, "Hansel and Gretel," the parents are forced to abandon their children in a forest because they don't have enough food to feed them. This is followed with the determination to escape in the symbolic sense. The ogre, the witch or whatever kind of animal involved, all have specific functions. I found it interesting to make the portrait of two adolescents based on a news headline and then slips little by little into the fairy tale world. For me, more interesting than just using the structure of naturalism and the classic justifications of social commentary cinema.
What were you sources of inspiration?
I was interested in accounts of many crimes in which the protagonists were adolescents. Recently, there have been a lot of similar cases in Europe and the US. For example, the story of this young, rich American girl who asked her middle-class boyfriend to kill a homeless man in Central Park. A completely gratuitous crime, just for the pleasure of killing or witnessing death ... And, of course, there's also the cinema tradition, mostly American, of young criminals on the run -- from AMANTS DE LA NUIT to BONNIE AND CLYDE, by way of THE HONEYMOON KILLERS.
The character of Alice, although much younger, still evokes the Hollywood praying mantis type female character that seduces her lover to push him toward crime. Like Barbara Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, Lana Turner in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE ...
I've always been fascinated by what are referred to as screen "bitches." I enjoy giving to female characters that same cruelty normally seen in men. Feminine manipulation is always much stronger, much more exciting. There is a particular sensuality in a woman's cruelty. Already, in my short, SEE THE SEA (Regarde La Mer), I showed outright the truly evil nature of the character played by Marina de Van without any psychological explication for the cruelty of her acts.
In CRIMINAL LOVERS there is no explained psychological analysis. You don't show any elements of the criminal pathology of your characters. You also don't paint a portrait of a disturbed era ...
The criminal act is presented as it is in all its mysterious and frightening brutality, without any psychological explanation or sociological context. One rarely knows the real reasons why someone commits an act. That's what interests me, to try and get closer to that obscure moment of the murderous impulse. In fact, it seems to me that Alice doesn't desire Luc, but actually desires Said. She doesn't assume her sexuality. She isn't ready to have a real love relationship with the young Arab. She sticks to fantasy and provocation. She turns him on ... She then has the object of her desire killed so as not to respond to that desire. The decision to act, this delight in killing, is her manner of attaining orgasm.
Do you think identification with the characters of Alice and Luc might be difficult for the audience?
The spectator has to choose his own path. I expect the spectator to be active. He or she is allowed to identify with the characters at times, and at other times maybe reject them. At the beginning, one sees them clearly as monsters, criminals. Later, in the grips of the Woodsman, Alice and Luc themselves become the victims. As prisoners of this ogre, it's easier to identify with them, to have pity for them. We almost forget that they have committed a murder. Then we are taken back to reality. I wanted the audience to stay on this path, to ask the question "Is there something in this or that character that I can find in myself?"
The innocence behind the young criminal couple is disturbing ...
For these adolescents, this kind of story reveals a real separation from reality. They are living in a fantasy. They see no difference between virtual and real. To them, death isn't real. Good common sense wants children to be innocent, but demons also sleep within. Their decision toward the criminal act is a game.
So Alice is playing when she stages the murder?
Yes, she plans everything out like a game. "We will kill Said. I seduce him. You come in. You kill him. We take off for the forest. We bury his body ..." There's a thrilling side to it. She says to Luc, "You must be happy. You said nothing ever happens to us. For once, something has happened!" She will never be conscious of her acts, while Luc is more connected with reality. He reacts out of love for her.
In the opening sequence, is Alice's surprising striptease meant to show her conquering, manipulative and castrating attitude?
That scene shows right off that it's a game. There is an ambiguity about the sexual relationship between Alice and Luc. Alice manipulates him. She makes fun of his problems getting an erection. She takes photos of him without his knowing about it. It's humiliating. The film also plays with voyeurism. Later, Alice finds herself in a voyeuristic position when she watches Luc and the Woodsman making love. Luc falls for her manipulation, into her lies about being raped by Said's friends. He has to seek revenge for Alice. Since he has an impotency problem, it's also an act of virility.
Alice is conscious of her seduction?
She shows an overdeveloped sexuality while at the same time she's probably a virgin. She imagines sexuality as something violent or aggressive. She proposes that Luc watch porno films to help him get an erection, but she herself is probably frigid.
So Luc is more indecisive about his sexuality?
There is in him a latent homosexuality that comes alive with the Woodsman. Luc's problem is that he doesn't know ... He's in an indecisive period of adolescence, tormented and lost by his real desires. Luc, without recognizing it, shares Alice's attraction to Said -- a handsome boxer who represents physical strength. He's a suitable rival to awaken trouble. Said is the most normal of the three. He's in the real world and without sexual problems.
Luc's desire to avenge Alice can, in his eyes, justify his inexcusable act? While Alice's act is gratuitous?
Alice is the victim of a morbid romanticism. She is devoured by her fantasies. She commits murder, then dies a criminal. At the end, she can't surrender her weapon and give herself up. She prefers to run, and chooses death ... Prison would be the worst of humiliations. Alice is outside of reality. For her, death has no meaning. There is no possible redemption but the will to go to the limits of her fantasy. But Luc understands redemption. He submits to the hardships of the Woodsman as a punishment to erase his guilt.
In his book "Psychoanalysis of Fairy Tales," Bruno Bettelheim says "one of the goals of fairy tales is to reassure in aiding children to take control of life."
Fairy tales serve in acting as catalysts for the worries of children. And also by trying to solve them. I think that cinema can have the same function as the fairy tale. Everyone has violent impulses, murderous thoughts. Seeing these impulses acted upon on screen can be liberating. Fritz Lang said: "If I hadn't made films, I might have become a criminal." Everything is in the point of view of the director. I don't think that my film is indulgent, but there's above all a loss of reference points that is destabilizing.
You opted for a story structure based on flashback ...
The screenplay was first written in chronological order. In editing, we realized the succession of situations worked too distinctly. The period of initiation where the young couple are held prisoner in the cellar became stronger, and the beginning was forgotten. The murder was overshadowed. The flashbacks gave more presence to the character of Said, thus reinforcing the cruelty of the two adolescents. Furthermore, the cellar imprisonment is suitable to the flashback. In this space, time becomes abstract, similar to what must be felt in prison. One has time to rethink one's acts, the murder committed, childhood ... The film was edited on this idea.
The film begins fast-paced, tight and alert like Alice's nervous rhythm ...
At the beginning, she runs the show. I wanted to avoid making her touching. Alice and Luc are heartless and mechanical, like robots who commit a murder. At first, everything goes fine, clicks together. Then the manipulation and their plan begin to crack. These two robots become human beings confronted with the real and unexpected consequences of their act. They have to drive a car, get rid of the body, buy a shovel. They have no money. They're hungry ... During their improvised escape, their actions prove to be childish and immature. The rhythm of the film adopts then their own rhythms. The framing becomes more open, wider. The characters lose themselves in the frame as in their plan. After the murder, it was difficult for me to film them in close-up. I felt they didn't deserve it.
How does one film a murder?
I asked myself that question for a long time. Hitchcock said, "a murder must be filmed like a love scene and a love scene like a murder." So here we have a love scene and a murder at the same time! At first, I had counted on breaking up the scene into several shots. But during rehearsals, I immediately felt that a longer take and wider shot would be needed to capture the murder's violent reality. It was important for the camera to be on the outside so that the spectator would not be in the action with the protagonists themselves. The murder also had to be real, and not a fantasy illustration of a murder.
The murder sequence is repeated toward the end of the film with a different and necessary intention ...
I was afraid that the spectator would forget the murder. The second time, the shot is in slow motion, as if to make it unreal. There is no more audible violence of the stabbing, the cries, the heavy breathing. We're in Alice's head. It was necessary to feel again the pleasure of killing that Alice experienced. At the same time, I was curious to see if using the same shot could produce completely different sensations.
The love scene under the waterfall has Disney-like aspects ...
It's a little like the Snow White sequence that children love. Snow White is sleeping and all the little forest animals huddle around her like voyeuristic spectators ... I wanted to include this naive, childlike and innocent poetic quality. Nature is beautiful. Alice and Luc are in love. At that moment in their story, the world is theirs. If they had known how to love from the start, if they hadn't been afraid of a world so hostile, then there wouldn't have been all of that violence ...
How should Luc's straight into camera look at the end of the film be interpreted?
I filmed that on instinct. During the shot, I abruptly asked actor Jérémie Rénier to look at me. I needed that. The spectator can interpret it how he or she feels like. All of a sudden, we're confronted with the expression of this boy who lived through this experience. It's as if he's saying to us, "I gave you my story ... What will you do with me now? Will you abandon me?" Some might take it as an accusatory look, others as an imploring one ... Luc is in tears, then suddenly he stops crying. Those are perhaps his last tears of childhood ... Alice smiles before dying. She's achieved her fantasy. She refused to become an adult. Luc, with his expression, becomes a man.
Interview from press kit