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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Film Festival 11.08.12] thriller drama


Sifting through the gloomy streets of Paris, seeking validation after a scathing break up, Simon eventually seeks refuge in the arms of a prostitute. At first, their relationship appears contrived more out of desperation than sincere affections. However, as vague details from his past relationship surface and Simon's dependent behavior gradually shifts, we see that what binds Simon to his newfound lover is something even more toxic than obsession. Antonio Campos is not breaking new ground with his storyline by any means, but the characters he constructs and the tension that he builds keep his audience involved in this narrative, even if we find ourselves disgusted. And it all visually comes together in Campos' highly stylized technique.

It is actually fitting that director Antonio Campos' last film credit was as a producer for chilling indie thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene. While Martha's tale was one of calculated conditioning, fear and control, the protagonist's narrative in Simon Killer is a scrutinizing study of a predator in its stumbling pubescent stages-one who may one day advance into his intended form. Like his lovers, Simon's character is able to lure his viewers into a complacent space of pity, if not trust. When we're first introduced to his character, he is still recovering from an abrupt end to a long-term, after learning-or, perhaps, convincing himself-that his girlfriend was cheating on him. He appears sullen and vulnerable in the way that he seeks affection from Victoria, perhaps in hopes of confirming the premature claims to his ex that he has "found someone." As he curls into Victoria's arms, he almost appears childlike, more concerned with being comforted and approved of than fucked and pleased. However, once he begins to shoulder his way into Victoria's way of life, the attachment starts mutating into something more leech-like. All the while, we are provided with voice-overs narrating his emails, detailing emotions and events that are never quite congruent with Simon's reality.

During a post-screening Q & A, Campos briefly discussed the process of Simon's de-evolution in this trip to Paris. To the character, this trip is a means of shedding a painful loss and developing a new skin. After days of brooding over the breakup, and several desperate attempts to reconnect with his ex, he throws himself into the city, until he can bury himself into another woman. Unfortunately, both in his online correspondences and in his newest relationship he weaves a tangled web of pretenses and outright lies that become increasingly difficult to maintain, drawing him further into implosion. He always wears a pin of a fox that was given to him by his mother, which becomes symbolic throughout Simon's transformation. While he might hope to see himself as cunning, develops into a species little beyond that of a scavenger. Or as one audience member declared, a "bad scavenger."

In the Q & A after the film, Campos stated that when speaking with prostitutes in Pigalle for Simon Killer, he was asked not to portray these women in any degrading or harmful manner. While evidence of pimps and sex trafficking can be seen in certain red light districts, these women he met with had found a unique security and family within their own community. He accomplishes this well in Victoria. Like the women of Pigalle, Victoria maintains a clear and distinct separation between her home life and her work life, transitioning from a hooker in a seedy bar and tight velvet mini dress to a woman in a comfortable modern apartment and tasteful knit sweater. Like Simon, Paris became a place of new beginnings and refuge from a history of brutal victimization and loss. Her story is a tragic one that audiences instantly sympathize with and when we see Simon's new reality begin to piece away, it is Victoria that we fear for.

Director Antonio Campos visually syncs the environment to the seedy, squirming behaviors of his protagonist. In the City of Light, in a film that plays heavily on the truths and illusions of terminal love, he could have used the romantic energy in a vast variety of ways. Instead, our first view of the city is a blue, pre-dawn pan of a dreary city, which never seems to reach any kind of beauty above its plain overcast atmosphere. The camera tails its subjects so tightly when they're traveling through the city streets that our attention cannot be diverted to Paris itself, but the characters' journey alone. For example, by focusing only Simon as he wanders through a red light district--our only indication being the haze of flashing neon and the occasional male solicitor, asking if he wants to see "fresh pussy"-Campos makes sure that the scene is not lost to the intrigue of the city's throbbing sexual epicenter. An audience member half-complained to me outside the theater that so many of these indie films throw its audiences into yet another dismal, melancholy Europe. While not much can be stated in the way of separating this film from that broad description, this is an example of a director and a cinematographer using the location to their advantage, strengthening the tone of the film, while preventing the aesthetics of the city from overwhelming the film.

As I waited for the film to begin, I was surrounded by buzz about how graphic this film would be. In fact, even before the screening began, a representative from the Philadelphia Film Festival introduced Simon Killer by warning us about its content, declaring that if we've seen the last film he directed, Afterschool, we know that Campos does not "hold back." We were in for a "wild ride." I have not seen Campos' earlier film, Afterschool. I can also say that I personally did not find this film graphic, unless you are offended by a few glimpses of those female genitalia and a few close ups of people's hindquarters. I will also say that this is not a new concept. Especially in an indie circuit, the film industry is ripe with themes of voracious males, manipulated women and the gradual deterioration of one's physical and mental control. I will say that Simon's incessant childish groaning throughout the film, which is a mixture of vocalized inner anguish and straight whining.

However, that does not mean that this film is ineffective. Simon's story is one that both distresses and infuriates, and continues burning its messages long after the final credits have rolled.

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