Red Lights, by French director Cédric Kahn, is one of those movies that just gets curiouser and curiouser, finally arriving at a resolution that seems both satisfying and a little banal. When it opens, we meet a Parisian couple - Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Hélène (Carole Bouquet) - who are about to hit the road to pick up their two kids at summer camp in Bordeaux. When it closes, they're still on the road to Bordeaux. But in between lies a story of Hitchcockian, if not Tarantino-esque, menace. Early on, we notice that Antoine and Hélène aren't a perfect match. She's too beautiful and accomplished for him. And maybe that's why he starts to lose it even before they get in the car, downing a few beers, then Scotch. Soon enough, they've gone their separate ways, Hélène to the train station, Antoine to the nearest bar. And it's Antoine we follow as he takes a journey into the dark night of his soul, starting off by making the old mistake of offering a ride to a stranger.
You'd think the Fu Manchu would be a dead giveaway, that and the radio report of an escaped convict. But like some character out of a Hemingway novel, Antoine needs an encounter with danger, needs to display grace under pressure in order to justify such a beautiful, accomplished wife. Or something like that. Kahn, who's adapted a novel by Georges Simenon, doesn't spell everything out. Instead, he lets the movie's mood slowly seep into the theater. There's some nice use of sound - a turn signal that ticks like a bomb, for instance. And Kahn beautifully captures the free-floating anxiety of the open road, not to mention the jam-packed anxiety of sharing an enclosed space with someone you both love and hate. As the feckless Antoine, Darroussin manages to suggest both a mouse and a man - a guy who, in his own words, is tired of being a "good little doggie." No wonder he starts running red lights.u