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RED LIGHTS (Feux Rouges)Following his great success with the acclaimed Roberto Succo and his earlier L’Ennui, Cédric Kahn’s new film RED LIGHTS, based on a Georges Simenon novel, was shown In Competition at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival.
Summer in Paris. Antoine (masterfully played by Guédiguian regular Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Hélène (Carole Bouquet) are driving to the south to pick up their children at summer camp.
The roads are packed with heavy holiday traffic and miles of gridlock is expected. Antoine, annoyed by his wife’s running late, tries to cool himself with beer after beer. By the time they hit the road, he has topped the beers with whisky but tries to conceal his drunkenness. Traffic slows and tempers flare. Antoine accuses his wife of not treating him like a real man. At each forced crawl and stop they break into accusations. He takes random turns and continues drinking in small town bars and pubs. The roads are busy with holiday goers and the police. A brief radio announcement reveals that a dangerous killer has escaped prison. The couple continue quarrelling. When she is temporarily left alone in the car and worried by Antoine’s inebriated state, his wife decides to go her separate way and to look for alternative transport. Finding her gone, Antoine panics for a moment, but soon settles back to enjoy himself like ‘a real man’. It’s a long night and every anonymous bar sign and neon light invites him for one more drink. He picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be the escaped killer and who, unbeknown to him, already just encountered his wife. The events start moving out of Antoine’s control and turn into a night of horror. The film climaxes the next day when he wakes up in the middle of nowhere and goes looking for his wife...
The original novel was set in the United States but Kahn and his co-screenwriter Laurence Ferreira-Barbosa moved the location to France. They stripped down the book to the core and concentrated all the action on the two leads. As in his previous films, Kahn prefers to tell a gripping story: in the confines of the car where the couple are forced to contend with each other’s presence and the tension slowly builds, reinforced by the dark tones of the music (Nocturnes by Debussy). The human side of the tragedy is central to this story: as the night progresses the primitive fear of Antoine colours the film. The ride becomes a nightmare in a world of anonymous roads, cars and neon lights. Nothing is what it seems. Kahn deliberately created a sense of unreality through the film and shot all the night car scenes in the studio.
However, Kahn needed strong actors to play the couple and preferred well-known stars who had never played together before. Especially the actor who would play Antoine would have to go through very strong emotions. He sent the script to Jean-Pierre Darroussin, without telling him his partner would be the beautiful actress Carole Bouquet. She had signed on the project at a very early stage. Darroussin, who normally plays simple characters and Bouquet (known for portraying elegance and sophistication) may seem an unlikely couple, but in RED LIGHTS manage to overcome their differences in a brilliant way.