Sombre (1998) (US 2006)

Sombre-1998This movie is not for someone who likes a lot of dialogue. This is not for someone who likes a conclusive or straightforward story. This is more for the person who can appreciate something artistic and darkly experimental.

This sinister French film follows murderer and rapist, Jean. The opening scene starts off in black, only hearing the screams of young children. Then the children are shown, close-ups of their young and jovial faces. They are in a movie theater, screaming at the screen. This is followed immediately by an extremely explicit sex scene – a woman’s legs spread wide open right in front of the camera. Jean is there and an erotic and disturbing struggle ensues between him and the woman. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the pattern of these scenes and the ones to follow. But it is soon realized that the audience is traveling along this bleak road that is the mind of a serial killer.

The first half of the movie shows the lonesome life of Jean through visceral and silent images along with scenes of various encounters with women, all of which end in death. But there is something strange about these scenes. He caresses and kisses these women first, which almost appears authentic. Then it seems that he gets frustrated and something snaps inside him and he loses it, giving into the temptation to kill. I think there are way too many scenes of him killing prostitutes, but I guess it’s to show that Jean is looking for something or someone to break him of this pattern… and then he meets Claire, the virgin.

Claire is played by actress Elina Lowensohn. I don’t know anything about this young lady, but she looks EXACTLY like Jocelin Donahue, who played her starring and breakout role in House of the Devil. Claire and her sister, Christine, build a tentative friendship with Jean, not knowing the real man behind the evil mask. It’s hard to tell how intimate a relationship is formed since there isn’t much dialogue in the film. After thwarting off many unwanted advances from Christine, Jean can’t restrain himself any longer and rapes her. The sisters panic and he has no choice but to kidnap the girls and begins to abuse them.

sombreAn actual plot starts forming at this point. The audience has something to hold on to- the hope that these two sisters have a chance to escape. And Claire does have this chance. This, to me, is the most memorable scene of the movie. Mostly because the song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by the band Bauhaus plays in its entirety during this part of the movie. If you don’t know this song, please download and listen NOW. This song is considered the original anthem for gothic music, with a CD cover with a still from the movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (one of the first horror films ever made) and singing about Bela Lugosi (the actor who gave us the modern day prototype for a vampire). It is a great song and very fitting in this film. The music gets louder and louder and more daunting and we know something big is about to happen. This seems like an important aspect for the director and a turning point in the film. Claire does the opposite of what we expect her to do. Instead of escaping, she goes back to save her sister and stays with Jean after her sister departs. Why the FUCK would she go back to him? Obviously she is a little off and has unknown issues herself, but in no scenario would this make sense. She is a lost soul just like him, I suppose.

Claire gives herself to Jean, both physically and mentally, which is quite a passionate and intoxicating scene actually. I gave in at the point, just enjoying the movie for what it had to offer. Jean doesn’t kill her like the others and almost seems to be a changed man from the experience. But to keep himself from his dark ways, he removes himself from Claire, and abandons her, so he doesn’t hurt her. A connection is lost forever.

I really started enjoying the film. There are some moving and beautiful parts, though mostly left unexplained. It is very indicative of artsy late-90’s French films. It reminds me so much of films of French writer and director, Catherine Breillat, who is known for her unflinching explicitness and exploration of female sexuality. In particular, her film Fat Girl popped into my mind several times while viewing Sombre.

sombreVisually, this is a very dark film – not just in its subject matter, but in its appearance as well. I could barely see what was on the screen. I tried brightening the image but that didn’t help much. When there was light, it was very purposeful and direct, casting half shadows. You only see what the director wants you to see. I read somewhere that the director intentionally played with aspects of darkness and light. But in my opinion, we are mostly left in the dark. I felt like I was watching this entire movie with a scowl on my face, unsure of how to feel. But one thing is for sure- we are definitely taken into the inner-struggles of anguished souls. Jean, and then Claire’s, breakdowns are revealed to the audience through an unsteady and shaky lens.

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Sombre (1998) on IMDb

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