Review by Doug Rule
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Thursday, 10/20/2011, 5:00 PM
Shorts presentation, $12 at West End Cinema
French with English subtitles
THE SHORT FILM Recipe for a Killing () opens with a man shooting his wife point blank for cooking him one too many bad meals. Murdering your spouse because her skills in the kitchen are subpar? Mais oui: Leave it to the French to cook up such a delicious, devious dish concept.
And of course, that’s only the film’s amuse-bouche. The multi-course dinner centers on the relationship between the murdering man, Gérard, played by noted French actor Niels Arestrup, and the lesbian vagabond Aline (Julie-Marie Parmentier). Gérard hires Aline right off the street to replace his murdered wife as his personal chef. Gérard is a hot-tempered asshole, plain and simple, and abuses Aline, whom he calls ”the kid,” whenever her dishes aren’t absolutely perfect.
But just when you start to feel sorry for the kid, director Emmanuelle Bercot, working from Chantal Pelletier’s crime novel, switches to tell Aline’s story. Turns out, she’s even more of a monster, having killed several people and having gone on several heists with her lesbian lover. Recipe for a Killing grows a bit too gung-ho about the crime and the killings, and its cast of characters become less savory as it goes. By the dessert course, which naturally includes one more murder, you may have had your fill. But you’ll still leave feeling satisfied.
And that’s especially true because Recipe for a Killing screens with Queen Bitch (). Both short films originally aired as part of a French television series offering adaptations of macabre, quirky crime novels.
Director Guillaume Nicloux adapted Queen Bitch from Laurent Martin’s novel. Emmanuelle is a transgendered woman dogged by bad luck from the start, when she was unjustly born into a boy’s body. Clément Hervieu-Léger is a real charmer as the sweet, sad Emmanuelle. Every time it looks like Emmanuelle might finally be closer to raising enough money for a sex-change operation in Bangkok, she hits another spot of bad luck. She’s far from above the law, of course — stealing from her wealthy parents, joining a counterfeit money scheme — but deep down, Emmanuelle seems like a good girl, and you never stop rooting for her to succeed.
Nicloux creates extra intrigue — and confusion — by building the story in a jagged, non-linear fashion, with many scenes introduced as having happened a day or more before. Why are the cops after her? How much money did she borrow from Pierre exactly? It helps to pay close attention, but then the answers are revealed in the end.
Well, all except for one final mystery. A real cliffhanger that you have to see for yourself.