29 January 2006 | gradyharp
'Una furtiva lacrima'
The aria from Donizetti's 'L'elisir d'amore' plays a significant role throughout this fascinating, intelligent, well made thriller by Francis Girod based on a novel by Brigitte Aubert and adapted for the screen by Girod and Philippe Cougrand. 'The secret tear' takes on many meanings as this complex story set in Brussels unfolds in the same manner as 'Diabolique'. Only this film takes even more risks and succeeds resoundingly.
Presented as simply the main character instead of an oddity, transsexual Bo (Robinson Stévenin) works as an entertainer in a drag club in Brussels. His best friends are other transsexuals, especially Maeva (William Nadylam), who perform with him. Some are also prostitutes and are falling prey to a serial killer who disfigures each of his victims in a vicious way. Bo, we learn, left home at age 13, unable to cope with sexual molestation from his father (Marcel Dossogne) and the suicide of his mother, and lives quietly in a humble apartment. Her interest is peaked when a handsome young Johnny (Stéphane Metzger) moves in next door and she fantasizes an affair with him. While Johnny appears to be infatuated with Bo, he has his dark side, living with a roommate with whom he provides sexual services for older unattractive but rich women.
The police, headed by Huysmans (Richard Bohringer) investigate the serial killings and in some way Bo is always at the scene or is familiar with the victims. The story revolves around the cat and mouse game of surveillance and complications of information regarding the killing spree. An interesting sidebar shows Bo's father arrested for sexual harassment and Bo is interrogated by the police about his childhood traumas with his father. How Bo weaves through all of the events - longing for Johnny, attempts for a consignation with Johnny which teeters on the possible versus the sadistic, gay bashing, gaining courage to speak against his father, etc - is the maze the story pulls us through. The identity of the serial killer is successfully revealed at the very end of the film.
The excitement of the suspense drama is heightened by Girod's stunning direction and by the completely convincing acting of Robinson Stévenin, but also by the superb characterizations by Richard Bohringer, Stéphane Metzger, William Nadylam, Frédéric Pellegeay, Ginette Garcin, Stéphane De Groodt, and Charlie Dupont. The musical score by Alexandre Desplat is one of this fine composer's best, and the cinematography by Thierry Jault finds just the right flavor of the seamy streets of Brussels to make the story as creepy as it should be. So with all this praise why only 8 stars for the DVD? The subtitles (the film is in French) are so out of sync with the film that they completely destroy the important conversations, so much so that many times the subtitles are finishing off a scene that is no longer on the screen! If these were corrected it would be clear to everyone why Robinson Stévenin won the French Cesar Award for best actor and why it is such a success for the daring director Francis Girod. Highly recommended...just be aware that the English subtitles will frustrate you - unless you speak French! Grady Harp