Friday, 8 April 2011

Watched - No2 - Docteur Petiot ( Christian de Chalonge,1990)

Now this was a real oddity. Veteran French star Michel Serrault stars in this portrayal of the eponymous real life serial killer who was active during WWII and responsible for the murders of at least 27 people. Petiot ran an 'escape network' for Jews wishing to flee Paris from the Nazis, the perfect cover for his murderous and profitable actions. Eventually rumbled Petiot then went on the run and disguised and re-invented himself (much like the character in Audiard's A Self Made Hero), until finally being captured, accused of over a hundred crimes and beheaded. I was expecting a sombre, bleak recounting of his crimes in the fashion of 10 Rillington Place, but that couldn't have been further from how Docteur Petiot plays out. Expressionistic, blackly comic and shot through with an absurdist streak, de Chalonge's vision of Paris is unlike any other I've seen. The locations and sets used bring to mind the stark post-industrial landscape of Stalker and the Heath Robinson clutter of Brazil. Serrault plays Petiot like a bizarre cross between a vampire and a clown and de Chalonge's narrative skips along at a pace that only allows the full horror of Petiot's crimes to sink in after the end credits. Docteur Petiot is flawed, characterisation is subdued in favour of imagery, Petiot verges on caricature (a cinematic monster instead of a real one) and the supporting cast are merely cyphers. Having said that, the stylish art direction, horrific basis in fact and Serrault's virtuoso performance make for a decidedly off-kilter watch.

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