“Is this some kind of hustle?”
In the deeply disturbing French film Fresh Bait (L’Appat) teenagers Nathalie (Marie Gillian), her boyfriend Eric (Olivier Sitruk) and their friend Bruno (Bruno Putzulu) have dreams for their future. Unfortunately, their dreams are influenced by American cinema–Scarface and Nightmare on Elm Street are great favourites, for example. While they discuss plans for how they’ll move to America and start a business in Miami, they fuel their impractical dreams with cinematic violence.
Many people have dreams that never materialize, but what’s so terrifying in this case, is the manner in which Nathalie and her friends decide they can achieve their goals. There’s one great scene when the band of hopefuls gather around a calculator and punch in ludicrous numbers that represent the money they imagine will enable them to set up business in Miami. And when it’s all done, Eric realizes he missed a zero. Frustrated by the notion that they need an enormous amount of money to further their plans, together they form the idea that Nathalie will lure affluent middle-aged business men into dates, meeting them at their homes, and then after she leaves the doors unlocked, Eric and Bruno will rob these lecherous businessmen. They imagine that a few robberies will net enough cash to fund their new life in America.
Of course, there are many, many problems with this plan, and as the viewer sits there and watches the action unfold, the natural reaction is to pick holes (and there are many to be picked) into the youthful gang’s loosely-shaped ideas. Unfortunately, however, the fact that the viewer can see the inherent problems about to occur does not stop the perps from sailing full speed ahead into violent disaster. Director Bertrand Tavernier creates a great deal of well wrought, excruciating tension throughout the film by exploiting the viewer’s ability to predict the problems in the planned robberies. It’s like watching a train wreck about to happen. We can see the imminent collision, predict the horror, but we are powerless to stop it.
The moral vacuity of the three main characters is also excellently conveyed. Guilt and remorse simply do not exist for Nathalie and her friends. Consequently, they act–after the deed is done–with nerves of steel. But this isn’t the result of bravado; this is the result of a complete separation from the crimes they commit and the rest of their pathetic lives–lives based on sheer knee-jerk materialism. There’s one great scene when Nathalie receives a plane ticket, and her first question is “is it first class?” Her disappointment when she discovers that it’s business class is evident. Nathalie is an interesting–although ultimately repulsive character. She’s young and beautiful and is quite willing to use her attributes to lure drooling, leering middle-aged men to their fate. Her victims, on the other hand, think they’ve hit the jackpot, and in their objectification of Nathalie, they label her with attributes that are glaringly absent.
Fresh Bait is made with Tavernier’s trademark lyrical consideration of his subjects, and some of the scenes were painful to watch. While I think this is an excellent film, the subject matter is disturbing, ugly, repellent and unsettling. Ultimately, the film reminded me of The River’s Edge—Fresh Bait isn’t a crime story–it’s an examination of Nathalie, Eric, and Bruno’s reactions to brutal crimes. “Fresh Bait” is in French with English subtitles.