Tag Archives: real crime

Roberto Succo (2001)

You can’t predict crazy

The film Roberto Succo from director Cédric Kahn, based on a true story, takes a hard cold look at the crime spree of an escaped Italian mental patient. Roberto Succo slaughtered his parents and was sent to a psychiatric hospital for a ten year sentence. He escaped, traveled to France and then embarked on a life of crime: stealing cars, and committing rape and murder along the way.

When the film opens a wild-eyed Roberto (Stefano Cassetti) who calls himself ‘Kurt,’ meets 16-year-old schoolgirl Léa (Isild le Besco), who’s on holiday in Southern France, at a seaside disco. He drives a flashy car, has wads of cash, is full of glamorous tales of his exploits, and Lea gets caught up in the drama of their romance. Kurt claims to be English, yet his accent seems Italian to Léa. There’s no sex between them-just some groping and the odd dry hump,  and when she returns home to the Savoy Mountains, he promises to see her again.

roberto succo

The film is largely episodic, and at times the narrative picks up as Roberto commits another crime or drops back into Léa’s life. In one scene, the police respond to a missing person’s report, and it’s at this point that police detective Thomas, (Patrick Dell’Isola) begins to piece together that a series of seemingly random crimes have been committed by the same individual who’s running amok across France.

After speaking to a few witnesses and putting together a crime spree map, Thomas concludes, correctly as it turns out, that they are dealing with a madman. Unfortunately Thomas’s superior doesn’t think the case is that serious….

While some of the film follows the dogged investigation, when scenes switch to Roberto, the tempo changes dramatically.  His victims will be leading their normal routines when suddenly Roberto bursts into their lives with his erratic, manic behaviour. Whether he’s ranting about endocrinology, Stendhal or Marxism, he’s clearly terrifying insane. Some of his victims are able to play cool while others aren’t so fortunate. In terms of violence, we see a post slaughter scene and photos of a slaughter scene. Not too gruesome in its distance but certainly dire enough to place a heavy weight on the narrative. The most terrifying aspect of the story has to be the sheer randomness of his attacks.

Meanwhile as the police dig for clues, Robert visits Léa. They have a relationship of sorts with him spinning various versions of himself and Léa either largely swallowing or deciding to ignore the glaring inconsistencies in his tales.

Roberto is clearly a fantasist and the film shows that well. At times he brags he’s a terrorist, a Marxist, and when given attention he’s caught in the moment as he spews out various elaborate, grandiose versions of his life. Stefano Cassetti delivers a convincing performance as the mercurial madman who doesn’t seem to have a goal other than ‘freedom.’ His victims exist to help him achieve that careening, elusive ideal. Towards the end of the film, he rants his insane version of the fate of one of his victims, and while we know his version is twisted, the horrifying fate of the victim haunts the scene.

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Dr Petiot (1990)

“It’s the age of villains.”

Dr Petiot (Michel Serrault) is a respected French physician living in Paris during the German occupation of WWII. His waiting rooms are packed with patients, but by night he runs a lucrative sideline by claiming to assist wealthy Jews who wish to be smuggled out of France to South America. The Jews who trust Petiot never leave France, and instead they meet their grisly deaths at his hands. In many ways, it’s a perfect set-up. His victims are supposed to enter an underground network Petiot has devised, and even the families of the victims aren’t in a position to contact the authorities with their suspicions.

Petiot is a bizarre character. He treats many of his poor French patients with no thought of payment, and yet at the same time he murders Jews for their money. His anti-Semitism is clear, and he needs no more justification than that. Primarily, however, Petiot is an opportunist. He deals with the French Gestapo, isn’t perturbed by the German Gestapo either, and he also traffics in Morphine. Petiot doesn’t seem to be bothered by the hardships others complain about. During an electricity blackout, for example, he says, “What I like about this war is being plunged into black night.” He seems to be quite comfortable in the dark shadows and tunnels of Paris. At night, he rides around on a bicycle with his cloak billowing out behind him, and there are visual elements of the vampire, Nosferatu here. Some of the anarchic street scenes are remarkable, and the social chaos underscores Petiot’s ability to conduct his murderous activities. The film emphasizes Petiot’s ghoulish side, and the demented, gleeful ceremonial manner in which he conducts each murder. The film is not graphic however, but the story is unavoidably nasty.

Michel Serrault as Petiot is incredible, and his portrayal of this strange character makes the film. Petiot is manic, demented, and explodes into rage at any small frustration. Petiot is also a chameleon with the brains to cover his tracks, and only a veteran actor like Serrault could carry off this complex role with such skill. He’s both amazing and horrifying to watch. For some reason “Dr Petiot”–a French language film with subtitles–seems fated to fade away, so if you’re a fan of French cinema, seek out a copy of this little-known masterpiece while you can. The final scene will haunt you for a long time to come. Directed by Christian de Chalonge.

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Longford (2006)

“If you start off with that pious mumbo jumbo I’ll jump across this table and bite off your tongue.”

The Moors Murders committed in the 1960s by Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, are some of the most horrific child murders in the history of British crime. These notorious murderers lured, tortured and then killed their young victims, and even made tape recordings of a 10-year-old victim’s ordeal. The film Longford traces the relationship between the incarcerated Myra Hindley and Lord Longford, then a cabinet member in Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government. Director Tom Hopper avoids the sensationalistic and more gruesome aspects of this notorious case and, instead, presents a fascinating psychological, character driven drama that explores the issues of rehabilitation and redemption.

The film begins in 1987 with Longford’s attendance at a call-in radio programme where he’s confronted by outraged callers who demand to know if he has any regrets about his relationship with Hindley. The film then flashes back to 1967 when Longford (Jim Broadbent), a well-known advocate of prisoners, and a firm believer in rehabilitation, is first approached by convicted murderer, Hindley (Samantha Morton) in her bid to secure parole.

Most of those who know Longford accept his position regarding prisoner rehabilitation, but as far as his family and the general public are concerned, he crosses the line in his relationship with Hindley. Longford, a fervent christian who has converted to catholicism, believes that everyone and every sin can be forgiven. So befriending Hindley represents a test of his religious commitment. Although initially daunted by the prospect of meeting this notorious killer face-to-face, Longford is pleasantly surprised by Hindley. He expected a monster, but instead discovers a demure, quiet young woman. He’s delighted, therefore, when over time Hindley expresses an interest in returning to the catholic church, and claims that it is due to Longford’s influence. Longford’s uncomfortable encounters with the demonic Ian Brady (Andy Serkis in a chilling performance), however, raise questions about Hindley’s sincerity.

The Moors Murderers were the first male/female serial sex killers in Britain, and while it was accepted that a man was capable of such acts, many people expressed incredulity that a woman was involved. One of the theories was that Brady forced or coerced Hindley in some way, and some evidence at the trial in conjunction with Hindley’s subdued, obedient behaviour certainly reinforces that argument, and she claims that she was led astray by Brady’s forceful personality. Various reformers see Hindley as a model prisoner while Brady is seen as a monster. Does Longford, who believes fervently in forgiveness and redemption, see only what he wants to see? Ian Brady delights in evil, and shows no remorse whatsoever, but is Myra a different case?

The film, which is excellently acted, makes a strong statement about the role of ego in the redemption of another, and Longford is portrayed as a naive man whose life of phenomenal privilege leaves him unprepared to deal with the dark side of human nature. The DVD includes a short feature with some details and archival footage concerning the murders. Directed by Tom Hopper

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