Film Scouts Reviews

"Généalogies d'un crime (Genealogies of a Crime)"

by Karen Jaehne

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Raul Ruiz has an astonishing career for an avant garde filmmaker. Known by cinephiles throughout the world by now, he manages to get top talent in Europe to work with him. It seems they are attracted to the way he pitches ideas - yes, intellectual investigations, not just plot summaries. His description of how he simply outlined his idea for "Three Lives and Only One Death" to get Marcello Mastroianni to commit to it is typical, and it speaks of an entirely different approach to the meaning of cinema.

When he met Catherine Deneuve, he told her the odd tale of Hermine van Hug, a psychoanalyst who was murdered by the nephew she was treating, and how she had predicted that the boy, even at the age of three, would commit murder. In the Austrian woman's diary, Ruiz discovered that she was having a dream that the boy is strangling her. Out of these basic components, Ruiz built a mysterious tale of decadence, incest and the traditional tale of a murderer who is hounded by his victim returning in another body to avenge his own death.

Ruiz's enthusiasm was contagious, and soon Catherine Deneuve was playing Solange, a judicial investigator who must decide if a young man has murdered his aunt. The great Michel Piccoli plays an eccentric psychologist with a following of people who believe in a theory so startling that the movie is worth seeing for this idea alone.

It goes like this: individual destiny or fate is not what human life is all about; rather, we are all players in a few archetypal scenarios that are the foundation of universal actions and what we will call History. We play out our parts, as we are permitted - ad infinitum. The actual number of such dramas is limited, but they are set in motion by divine purpose, using our lives as materiél - and that is why we resort to the notion of individual destiny.

Ruiz always finds tantalizing topics for his work, which prompts many to lodge the complaint that his movies sound better than they are. I believe he has the intellectual imagination to figure out the formal approach to suit his oddball films. With the patrician glory of Catherine Deneuve to work with in "Geneologies of a Crime," he decides to use her both as the investigator, the victim and the avenger. That the young man she saves from prison should fall in love with her is perfectly credible; that she invests so much of herself in him is a tribute to Deneuve's acting ability.

The ever amusing Michel Piccoli plays a nutty psychiatrist, providing comic foil for the outrageous decadence proposed by his theories. It's a little like the Marquis de Sade meets Woody Allen. Then again, it's not clear if it intends to be a laugh-riot.

Ruiz cannot be faulted for lack of intellectual ambition. His reputation commands respect, even from people who have never braved one of his films. To be sure, people whose lives revolve around cinema sooner or later come to terms with the way Ruiz tells a story and the demands he makes of his audience.

For the uninitiated, "Genealogies of a Crime" is Ruiz's most accessible film. It retains the mystery of a polite BBC thriller and adds the allure of Catherine Deneuve to tantalize us with its potential tragedy. After all, the secret of Deneuve's femme fatale appeal is to let us in on her pain, to let us watch her transcend it and admire her survival. She can endure anything, even misbegotten films.

Deneuve is quite probably the key to Ruiz's success in "Geneaologies of a Crime," since he admits quite cheerfully that her response to his first script was to tell him to cut it. Many of us who have endured (with less influence) Ruiz's earlier, much longer films are grateful to her for that. Certainly, Deneuve's experience with an impressive array of film directors gives her an authority that no film professor could ever aspire to. Without her, this film would be silly. With Deneuve, it's an investigation into love as a form of crime prevention. (Pssst: it doesn't work).

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