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A heartbroken American on a soul-searching trip to Paris finds his buried secrets clawing their way to the surface in this neo-noir thriller from writer/director Antonio Campos (Afterschool). Lovelorn in the aftermath of a recent break-up with his longtime girlfriend, American college graduate Simon (Brady Corbet) wanders the streets of Paris aimlessly, and drifts into a sex parlor where he encounters mysterious prostitute Victoria (Mati Diop). His emotions suddenly reawakened, Simon hatches a plan to blackmail one of her wealthy clients -- a crime that has some unexpected repercussions for all involved.
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The movie begins as Corbet has arrived in Paris. A recent college graduate, he is still hurting from a break-up with his childhood sweetheart. He seems to need the time away to purge some unpleasant experiences from his memory. In letters and calls, we learn that he has disappointed his parents and became rather confrontational with his girlfriend. But we really only hear hints of what transpired from his perspective. After spending much time alone, he starts to seek out the attention of the local ladies. And he befriends a professional who works at a local sex club. Their relationship is surprisingly tender as she responds to his yearning. When he doesn't leave Paris as planned, the two grow closer. He has some thoughts and ideas about her leaving the sex trade, so they enact a scheme to make that happen. As the movie progresses, we see the repercussions of this decision. It's as if his poor choices embolden him with newfound confidence, but I won't reveal where that leads. While I've tried to be purposefully vague, the DVD cover gives even more away.
It's probably best just to let the movie unravel at its own pace, it's mysterious element is one of its strongest attributes. As I mentioned, this is NOT an in-your-face thriller. It is a deliberately paced film that has an underlying creepiness instead. Corbet is absolutely fantastic here. Having been a child actor, he's made some bold choices in his career including "Mysterious Skin," "Funny Games," and "Melancholia." Clearly he wants to be an actor as opposed to a star and has hand-picked challenging roles on the indie film scene. This, though, is his best. The movie also contains explicit nudity and sex (in case that scares you off), but the movie is geared toward an adult arthouse crowd. "Simon Killer" is most definitely not for everyone. But it creates and sustains a oddly creepy vibe that had me hooked. There isn't a lot of action or thrills, instead this is a slow burn mood piece for the right audience. I didn't have particularly high expectations, but I actually loved it. KGHarris, 9/13.
The narrative, though, is secondary to the extraordinary and wholly disturbing vision that is presented to us. The sex scenes, while erotic, are almost joyless, with Simon's lovers' heads often out of the shot, giving us a view of Simon leering at their nude bodies, or forcing them to turn around and face the opposite way, further dehumanizing his sexual partners.
The unique experience of this film is further developed through the contrast of highly cinematic, "fake"-feeling camera work with exceptionally neorealistic dialogue and acting. The very long shots feel as if we could be there watching live, but with the slight disconnect of a perfectly framed angle, or smooth turns bridging opposite characters or ends of the room.
The focal point of the film, of course, is Simon himself, delivered in a fantastic performance by Brady Corbet (who you may recognize from Thirteen). He is nearly impossible to take your eyes off of, and gives a remarkably rich and believable portrayal of a womanizer, criminal, and yes, killer.
Simon Killer is also extraordinary in how much it takes us by surprise - we rarely get films, either studio or independent, which places us with your everyday man who has the potential to kill. Recalling earlier events, I can now look back and see how we were given clues that Simon could be a criminal all along, but an audience is often unwilling to accept that our narrator, our door to this experience, is capable of such terrible acts. We share in his experience but don't want to bear the guilt of his actions. The film lets off a chilling conclusion and a sense of fluidity, that these events have likely happened before and will probably happen again.
Simon Killer is a shining (?) dark spot in a year of film that was largely optimistic and happy-go-lucky. It offers a very fresh take on the traditional narrative and gives us an unforgettable cinematic experience.
Simon (Brady Corbet) claims to be a graduate in neuroscience,concerned with how the brain processes peripheral vision,yet he doesn't know what `nystagmus' is,a condition of Marianne,one of his pick-ups.He is a compulsive liar.His emails to his ex are all in his voiceovers, even hers to him.He also towards the end tells the passport control officer he's studying French literature, like the last girl he met.In truth Simon is alone in Paris looking for sex,full of deadly cunning,cut adrift from empathy or values. Ripley comes to mind,but even he would never stoop so low as to get his prostitute girl friend to film and blackmail customers.
Chronicling the downward spiral of this inept protagonist,Campos subverts noir expectations,he is ably abetted by Mati Diop, touching as Victoria,who Simon moves in with and battens onto.He believes his lies until Mati peels away at them towards the end as he has gorged his confidence to launch into a new relationship as her spark dims. The sex is true to life.Simon treats women as objects to his own narcissim.There are languorous camera movements and surprising focal points in many scenes e.g.when he's picked her up in the bar and they've gone to a private area to talk as the camera pans away from them as if to widen the perspective.
Simon is portrayed as both pathetic and vulnerable,his mother's `fox'and violently unstable,emotionally immature,'I always saw myself as more of a lion'.Simon is set in his ways,hiding darker impulses.Colours are drab,cameras set at waist level,cutting off torsos.Beneath the frail exterior,manic behaviour is prone to burst forth.The tourist manipulator,adapting to very person he meets, trying to bring a new self into identity, but full of motiveless malignity,deriving his drive for manliness by wrenching emotion from others.Simon grows into a monster as foretold in the title.Corbet quits himself well of this American psycho in Paris.Enjoyable film with urgent soundtrack.