Browsing through a movie-poster store, I inevitably get a kick out of seeing how some of the most famous American titles can get mangled, in translation, for the foreign markets, usually with a laughably simplistic literal-mindedness. It wouldn’t be at all surprising, for instance, to see ”Natural Born Killers” come out, in France, as Criminal Lovers.
That, it turns out, is the title of François Ozon’s grisly, oddball, ludicrously self serious ”young slayers in love” thriller, a movie that has about the same relation to a yeasty, alluring underworld yarn as its très hard boiled title does. This is a movie that subjects us, in the first 10 minutes, to a beautiful teen-tramp fatale (Natacha Régnier) and her wimpy pawn of a boyfriend (Jérémie Rénier) slaughtering another fellow in the gym shower, and about the only thing you feel is turgid disbelief. The blood spurts, and the jackknife plunges in a dozen times or more. Ooh-la-la – how ”dangereuse”!
But wait, I haven’t even gotten to the good part. Our rebel glam sociokillers bury the corpse and end up imprisoned in a remote cabin by a lonely, grouchy, homosexual cannibal who looks, and acts, like a strapping backwoods Walter Matthau. He locks the two in a rat-infested cellar but then allows the young man to come out, leashed like a dog, so that he can chow down on homemade rabbit stew and get all fattened up for…
Ozon, as he demonstrates in his other current film, the nasty erotic roundelay ”Water Drops on Burning Rocks” (based on a play by the young Rainer Werner Fassbinder), has a gift for heightening everyday sexual pathology. A bit of that comes through in the flashbacks of ”Criminal Lovers,” which allow Régnier, a terrifically cruel temptress, to flirt and manipulate with delicious cunning. That said, this remains the one and only fusion of ”Deliverance” and ”Hansel and Gretel” that I ever hope to see.