J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Simon Killer: Really Ugly American in Paris

It is a strange marketing strategy to make a film’s title a spoiler.  Still, it certainly has a better ring than “Simon Pathetic Misogynist Loser,” even if it is not necessarily more accurate.  Either way, it is safe to assume there will be some rather twisted dealings in Atonio Campos’s Simon Killer (trailer here), which opens today in New York at the IFC Center.

Simon clearly likes to play the victim, especially in the wake of his break-up with his longtime girlfriend.  However, it quickly becomes apparent he is a master manipulator with a fair share of sexual hang-ups and character flaws.  Having recently finished grad school, he is visiting Paris in hopes of getting over the woman he still compulsively e-mails.  It takes viewers about two seconds to realize there is a very good reason she gave him the heave-ho.  By then, Simon has taken up with his favorite Pigalle prostitute, Victoria, despite the rather embarrassing start to their professional relationship.

Hooking up with Simon is not a good idea.  It will lead to some reckless schemes and a whole lot of pain, before his eye starts to wander.  She should let him go.  After all, there is really nothing attractive about the free-loading creep.  Unfortunately, logical behavior is in short supply throughout Killer.

Autoeroticism is typically a rather un-cinematic activity, even in films intended to inspire the same.  Yet, Campos takes it to a whole new level of ickiness in Killer.  After watching this film, most viewers will want to stand under a nuclear reactor industrial shower after shooting up a syringe of penicillin.  Clearly, Campos equates seediness with avant-garde edginess, but here it is really just lurid self-indulgence.

As the title character, Brady Corbet’s Byronic hipster routine gets old quickly.  Mati Diop brings an intriguing presence to the film as Victoria, but it is impossible to understand how she could fall for Simon’s dubious charms from the film’s dramatic context.  Frankly, we have seen this all before, right down to the maddeningly ambiguous conclusion—a last ditch effort to rattle viewers, which is really just a narrative cop-out.

There are some nice supporting turns in Killer, most notably Constance Rousseau as a pretty but somewhat vulnerable young woman, who nonetheless possesses basic human powers of perception.  Indeed, the fact Simon does not set off more alarm bells, particularly with a professional like Victoria, is a real head-scratcher.  While far from perfect, Alexandra McGuinness’s Lotus Eaters is still a considerably more satisfying portrait of aimless, morally problematic youth.  Aesthetically unpleasant and credibility-challenged, Simon Killer is not recommended when it opens today (4/5) in New York at the IFC Center.