Directed by Cédric Khan, starring Stefano Cassetti, Isild Le Besco, Patrick Dell'Isola, Vincent Deneriaz, Aymeric Chauffert, Viviana Aliberti.
Based on the true story of an escaped Italian mental patient whose serial-killing escapades terrorised France towards the end of the 1980s, 'Roberto Succo' was understandably not appreciated by audiences when it appeared at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Close to the bone and all that. Yet owing to film fans' seemingly endless fascination with serial-killer flicks ('Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer', 'Silence Of The Lambs'), there will almost certainly be an audience for this. Plus, it has the sinister allure of being anchored in fact.
Opening with the discovery of a multiple-murder scene, the narrative immediately jumps five years on. On holiday with her family in the South of France, 16-year-old Lea (Le Besco) meets 25-year-old 'Kurt'. Bashful and innocent, yet drawn to the attention she receives from the older man, Lea allows herself to be seduced. A relationship follows, with Lea being sucked into Kurt's world of stolen cars and guns, appeasing the caveat in her head with the belief that her lover's tales of his past are just the product of an overly fecund macho imagination.
Meanwhile, a spate of criminal incidents occurs when Kurt is 'out of town'. As the incidents become increasingly violent, Inspector Thomas (Dell'Isola) begins to suspect the crime-wave is being carried out by one individual. A composite drawing of the wanted man is drawn up and distributed, and when Lea spots it, the alarm bells in her head ring aloud once more. Through the impressionable teenager, the authorities soon realise that they are dealing with a sociopath who has hitherto escaped the radar.
Arguably too long, 'Roberto Succo' benefits from its insistence on evincing the actions of a killer without attempting to rationalise those actions. Director Cédric Khan gives us the character, shows us that he's a violent maniac, and that's it. There are no justifications, there are no explanations and, ultimately, there are no issues of catharsis and redemption. Khan's decision to juxtapose Succo's homicidal rampage with the police investigation is less successful, and often only succeeds in slowing the piece down to the tempo of documentary.
Crucially, though, the performances are strong. Le Besco is faultless as the young girl whose strong urges to be loved are eventually supplanted by the reality of brutal humanity. At first glance, Stefano Cassetti's performance in the title role is solidly assured. Exuding a key mix of child-like social skills and violent intensity, Cassetti never gives into the temptation to indulge in some over-the-top histrionics. But when you realise that prior to the film he had never acted before and was actually spotted in a café by a friend of the casting director's, his performance is justifiably elevated to the realm of the inspiring.