Writer-director: Lucas Belvaux
Starring: Yvan Attal, Anne Consigny, Andre Marcon
The differences between French cinema and Hollywood studio offerings are various and sundry, but perhaps best illustrated by something like Rapt, a sprawling and inventive kidnap drama which doesn’t so much deliver an adrenaline shot of nervy thrills as steadily ooze disquieting tension over the course of its two-hour running time. Watching this superb high-wire balancing act unfold, one is struck by the myriad ways American thrillers typically angle for car chases and other jolts of immediacy, even if it doesn’t always make sense within the confines of the narrative. So when word of a planned English-language remake of Rapt broke not long before its slotting at the City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) Festival in 2010, it elicited both tingles of anticipation (it’s rich material) and knowing sighs of all the misguided compromises and tweaks that would almost certainly distill the grim effectiveness of writer-director Lucas Belvaux’s morally grey film.
Nominated for four Cesar Awards in its native France, including Best Director, Best Actor and Best Film, Rapt was inspired in part by the real-life 1978 kidnapping and rescue of businessman Edouard-Jean Empain. Its story centers around Stanislas Graff (Yvan Attal), a wealthy, powerful and politically connected industrialist/CEO with a couple dark secrets (a mistress, an affinity for gambling) that a group of criminals may have used as leverage in their plot. On the eve of a trip abroad with the French president, Graff is kidnapped in a brilliantly executed snatch-and-grab on a city street. His kidnappers want cash, and lots of it, so they promptly cut off his middle finger to show the police and Graff’s wife Francoise (Anne Consigny) that they mean business.
While the particulars of the ransom are being hashed out, the man charged with overseeing Graff’s corporation in his absence, Andre Peyrac (Andre Marcon), tries to walk a tightrope between legitimate concern and the protection of broader, multi-national business assests. As tabloids threaten to get hold of some of the less than flattering particulars of Graff’s personal life, Peyrac worries about how it will impact the value and worth of the company. The p0lice, meanwhile, often seemed more concerned with merely apprehending the kidnappers and holding them up as a public example than actually ensuring Graff’s physical well-being.
What’s most remarkable about Belvaux’s film is the way it habitually avoids pat judgments about its characters, while also coming up with interesting story twists and simultaneously burrowing deeper and deeper into its characters’ individual emotional states. No one gets off easy here. It spoils nothing, really, to say that Graff is separated from his kidnappers much earlier than the film’s final reel, leaving his family and others to grapple with the changes in their lives, and the fact that this act is not some discrete threat to be overcome and shelved away, but rather a stone thrown in the placid pond of their privileged existences, with ripples spreading farther and father after the fact, and in unknown directions.
Attal (Munich, My Wife Is An Actress) gives a superlative performance, morphing from cocksure captain of industry to an emaciated and ruminative victim of prey, and Marcon and the rest of the cast are similarly effective in projecting the interior monologues of their characters. It will be interesting to see who plays the role of Graff in Rapt‘s American remake, but it’s almost certain that the film will be injected with the sort of muscular, pop-out set pieces that chip away at the opportunity for the sort of unique nonverbal connection that Rapt affords.
It may yet land in the right hands (witness the artful Swedish film Let the Right One In and its equally beautiful American counterpart, Let Me In), but Rapt should definitely be given a chance by American fans of quality arthouse cinema. After its exclusive Los Angeles engagement at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills this week, Rapt will be expanding throughout the rest of the month.
Written by: Brent Simon