(Les Amants Criminels)
Francois Ozon grabs the audiences attention from the opening in which Natacha Regnier teases a blindfolded Salim Kechiouche, telling him she is undressing but not and taking photos of him undressed saying she is going to show them to his mother. However, after grabbing ones attention with this scene, Ozon starts to meander somewhat. In synopsis and in title, Criminal Lovers tends to suggest something much more anarchic than it is. There is not that there is anything particularly wrong with the film it is just that you think that another director might have dug into the murder and burial scenes with greater psychological tension or even a riotous sense of black comedy. The central murder is a banal event. Moreover, Natacha Regniers teen seductress seems altogether too plain she lacks any of the dangerousness and seductive playfulness that Tuesday Weld had in Pretty Poison and seems as bewildered an innocent as Jeremie Renier is.
That said, Criminal Lovers picks up considerably once it arrives at the woodland cottage. Miki Manojlovic gives a performance that hover on a razors edge between brutish violence and a coarse tenderness. In these scenes, Francois Ozon reduces the films lighting level to almost complete darkness. There is one scene with Miki Manojlovic and Jeremie Renier sitting at the dinnertable facing one another in alternating closeups, both almost entirely in shadow, where Manojlovic states I like my boys fattened up and my girls all skin and bone that contains a genuine chill where you are never sure if such a comment is meant to be taken seriously or not.
Francois Ozon demonstrates moments of considerable style. There is a wonderfully dreamy scene with Jeremie Renier and Natacha Regnier drifting through a misty river on an oarless boat. The couples final consummation comes amid exquisitely composed wide-angles with the two kissing under waterfalls and swimming naked in pools but it is an idyll that Ozon does not take too seriously as demonstrated by the number of cutaways to woodland creatures romping, which gradually increases to the point of absurdity.
Criminal Lovers was a promising feature debut from Francois Ozon and he has since gone onto become one of Frances top directors with the likes of Under the Sand (2001), 8 Women (2002), Swimming Pool (2003), 5x2 (2004), Angel (2007), the fantasy film Ricky (2009), Potiche (2010). Young & Beautiful (2013), The New Girlfriend (2014), Frantz (2016) and The Double Lover (2017).