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Roberto Succo

Based on an actual case history, this French chronicle of a serial-killer’s deadly trail through the Rh’ne-Alpes region is a brilliantly-made, deeply unsettling look into the ramifications of a madness beyond understanding. Director Cedric Khan resolutely refuses to indulge in pop psychology, restricting himself instead to the documented evidence of witnesses who tangled with the real-life Roberto Succo and lived to tell the tale, the known circumstances surrounding several of the killings he perpetrated, and the perplexing task faced by detectives puzzling over a spate of slayings with no apparent connection. A mesmerising central performance by the non-professional Stefano Cassetti holds the proceedings together, as Succo forms a tentative attachment with an impressionable teenage girl, calling himself ‘Kurt’ and hiding not only his dark family history-he’d already served time in Italy for murdering his parents-but his current nefarious activities, seemingly spontaneous acts of kidnapping and killing.
Although the film creates an undertow of considerable dread, it’s far removed from the typical Hollywood approach of turning the murders into action set-pieces. Here the unease comes from not knowing what’ll come next, and the moments conjuring blood-letting from out of nowhere are all the more shocking for the documentary restraint with which Khan pictures them. Too many celluloid psychopaths are mere cartoon bogeymen, but Succo is utterly unknowable, a set of fateful mental loose connections we’ll never fathom. In a world where reports of the next inexplicable atrocity never seem far away, this is a film which undoubtedly strikes a deep chord. If you admired Manhunter or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, you absolutely have to see it. Trevor Johnston.
France. 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Panavision anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 124 mins.

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