The opening moments of Cédric Kahn’s marvelous Red Lights so perfectly capture the plight of man. We watch a man wait for his wife who, as always, is notoriously late. A man who, upon meeting with his wife, is informed that before they leave for their scheduled trip, she must go home and shower. A man who, once on the road, is nagged incessantly about how fast to drive, which lane to be in, which route to take. These are marginal plights, sure, but they’re also spot-on. That tension and frustration that slowly builds from man waiting on (and being nagged by) woman, while silly, is something Red Lights initially executes with amusing precision.
Thankfully, these early scenes are far from melodramatic. Instead, they’re actually quite funny in a pathetic sort of way. Kahn is very careful to not turn Antoine’s drinking into hyperbole. He’s consuming a lot of booze, but in the way we’ve all had that one night we knew we should’ve slowed down but didn’t. It also helps that Antoine and Hélène’s arguments in the car are written with a purposeful immaturity. There’s a bit of a “Shut up!” “No, YOU shut up!” mentality between them, which, again, feels wholly authentic. Basically, Antoine is in a bad way tonight, and as far as he’s concerned, Hélène should keep quiet.
But then something interesting happens. During one of his stops, Antoine exits a bar and notices that Hélène is not in the car, having left a note that she’s taken the train. Because they are in the middle of nowhere in rural France, Antoine’s enraged drunkenness swiftly shifts to rescue mode. He spends the remainder of the evening balancing his time between feverish episodes of trying to find his wife, and epic stints of drinking. And as the night progresses, Red Lights sneaks up on us in the way Michael Haneke’s films do. There’s more wrong with this night than just arguments and alcohol, and Kahn allows the thrills to play out organically, in a manner that would make Haneke, and, indeed, Alfred Hitchcock proud.
I was lucky enough to see Red Lights by chance when it was first released. It popped up at a small, independent theater in my college town, and I went in blind, knowing nothing about it except that its one-sheet looked intriguing. I loved the film and sang its praises to anyone who’d listen. But when it left that theater a few days later, it was pretty much gone for good. I have yet to see another movie by Cédric Kahn, am woefully ignorant on Darroussin’s other performances, and, save her starring work in Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire and the Bond film For Your Eyes Only, I’m not familiar with Bouquet’s work either. But in 2004, these three talents got together and created a tremendous slow-brew of a thriller that I’ve never forgotten.
Not to be confused with the nothing-in-common English-speaking film with Robert De Niro from 2012, Kahn’s Red Lights is a patient thriller that deserves my highest praise. I’d be so interested to hear what many of my favorite film critics have to say about it. If you can track it down, I suggest you watch it immediately. A-