Wednesday, 28 August 2013


(Antonio Campos, 2012)

Shot by shot, scene by scene, Campos is a formidably talented and intelligent filmmaker. Simon Killer is an ambitious, brilliantly made art film about a young American (Brady Corbet) in Paris after a traumatic breakup with a longterm girlfriend. The first act is terrific - Simon floats lonely and isolated around a wintry city, trapped behind the wall of music in his ever-present iPod earphones. What little the audience learns about his life and character comes from Simon himself, and he turns out to be quite an unreliable narrator indeed. He studied neuroscience in College, specifically the relationship between the eye and the brain, and much of the narrative here is centred on the gap between perception and reality. Not only what Simon perceives - he has a thing for objectifying women - but how people see him as one thing when he is in fact somebody altogether different. This only really slowly emerges when he meets and seemingly falls for Victoria, a beautiful, alluringly mysterious prostitute (Mati Diop). Here the film moves into another, less successful mode, with far more plot, as Simon convinces Victoria to begin blackmailing some of her clients, and the lies and manipulations begin to mount up. 
Campos' stylish direction ensures that even when the narrative becomes a tad too predictable and repetitive the film remains a fascinating, pleasurable experience. There is a lot of Michael Haneke here, in the precision of the framing and the control of the agonisingly slow zooms. Much of the action occurs in nocturnal Paris, starkly lit in a sickly yellow by sodium vapour lamps, and other scenes - notably in the club where Simon meets Victoria - are bathed in crimson. Simon is often isolated at the centre of the frame, but Campos likes to play with his framing; objects block out crucial information, faces and expressions are withheld from the audience. He favours long takes with fixed master shots, and over the course of the film this creates a claustrophobic sense of intimacy with Simon, who is revealed to be, at the very least, a sociopath.
Corbet is a strange presence and not quite a lead, but he has a half-glimpsed intensity that works very well for the character here. His performance grows more effective and unsettling as his character gets increasingly desperate. Diop is excellent as Victoria, her mix of vulnerability and strength evident in her very first scene, and their relationship - so unlikely in the abstract - is entirely convincing in its needy codependency. 
There are numerous other pleasures - the soundtrack is brilliant, Joe Anderson's cinematography is tactile and frequently stunning, and it is one of the great films of modern Paris, capturing something of the cities often chilly beauty.
But the main impression is of Campos' virtuosity; how he creates and maintains such a disturbing mood, how impressionistic and disciplined his style is, how he uses arty techniques without ever seeming pretentious.

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