A review of “Red Lights” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: Not Rated but should be PG-13 for violence and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. In French with English subtitles

 

 

Dutiful parents Hélène (Carole Bouquet) and Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) are filled with enthusiastic purpose as they prepare to fetch their children from a southern France summer camp.  As the couple hits the highway, it rapidly turns into my-way or not at all. 

Frustrated by the slow moving traffic, Antoine leaves the freeway for the ease of the backroads.  Hélène’s displeasure is evident and the bickering escalates.  Antoine finds a myriad of excuses – gas stop, bathroom break – to fuel up on beer and whiskey, thus setting the heretofore edgy situation on shaky ground.

Hélène ultimately disappears, leaving a note informing her bar-hopping spouse that she’s fed up and taking the train.  At this point Lights becomes an exercise in frustration and futility.  Antoine frantically searches for his wife from station to station while suffering the perils of solitary car travel – flat tires, missed turns, and a menacing hitchhiker.

Lights is consumed with a palpable sense of dread and a large dose of masculine guilt a la Antoine’s connubial demons.  Its pace is altogether too measured (read: slow), but ultimately pays off in broad Hitchcockian strokes. 

Darroussin – a mousy Wallace Shawn look-alike – is at once repulsive and irresistible, commanding the screen with the quiet force of turmoil and internal despair.  Score plays a large role, picking up where the minimal dialogue leaves off.  French cinema at its most ambiguous.