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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivières pourpres) (2000)

"Run over by a truck. They called it an accident. But the mother told me something completely different. According to her, her daughter was killed by demons."
- Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: June 12, 2003

Stars: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel
Other Stars: Nadia Farès
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, grisly images, language)
Run Time: 01h:45m:40s
Release Date: December 03, 2002
UPC: 043396065932
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

A corpse is discovered hanging 150 feet up a mountain cliff. The victim's nude body, trussed up in a fetal position, has multiple incisions made with a carpet cutter, broken bones, its hands have been cut off, and the stumps cauterized so that the victim would not die quickly. And his eyes are missing.

Commissioner Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno), who leads a "special unit" of the Paris police, arrives to investigate in the small town of Guernon in the Alps. At the same time, a local policeman who is new to the area, Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel), looks into two seemingly-unrelated crimes: the desecration of a girl's tomb in the local cemetery, and a break-in of the archives of a local school. He visits the local highway records office to learn more about the girl, only to discover that she was killed twenty years earlier in a horrific traffic accident, her mother found by the side of the road, clutching the dead girl's finger.

Niemans discovers that multiple threads tie the murder to the local university of Guernon, and focuses his inquiries there. The more he investigates, the more he comes to realize that there is something unsettling and creepy about the college—the faculty have been interbreeding for generations, causing genetic diseases to appear, and his attempts to probe further into the mystery are met by a stone wall of resistance from everyone he interviews. The sole interviewee who has anything negative to say about the university, Fanny Ferreira (Nadia Farès), is a glaciologist who discovered the dangling corpse.

Eventually, Niemans and Kerkerian bump into each other, and begin to work together (after a fashion). Another body is found. They discover that one of the victims was engaged in the genetic research on dogs, and Kerkerian finds a picture of the long-dead girl in his apartment. The clues and incidents pile up one on top of another, as the plot becomes increasingly contorted and difficult to follow. Even at the dènoument of the film, a complete understanding of exactly what happened in this small university town is withheld from the viewer.

In one of the DVD supplements, Vincent Cassel tellingly says, "I can't help explain the film, because I didn't understand it," and I suspect that most viewers (myself included) share that feeling. Only by viewing the supplements can one come to a satisfying explanation of the contorted details of the plot.

But the contorted and unsatisfying narrative is not the only problem with the film. Perhaps in an effort to appeal to an international marketplace, Kassovitz takes inspiration from the hyped-up action thrillers so beloved of Hollywood, much to the detriment of the film. Sequences such as a martial arts fight with skinheads, set to a pounding music score, while undeniably skillfully filmed and interesting outside the context of the movie, completely disrupt any consistency the film might have otherwise had.

In the end, the film is more a compilation of movie clichés (serial killer mutilations, the detective falling for the girl who just might be involved in the crime, bumbling local cops, policemen on the edge of lawlessness, mysterious locals, the obligatory car chase scene, etc.) and references (The Shining, Vertigo, Se7en) than a satisfying whole. While there are some effective sequences, and the performances are good, the baroque plot and lack of originality don't add up to much in the end.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a great transfer, from a very clean source print. Colors are vibrant yet realistic, and there is a lot of detail in the darker portions of the image (especially important for this film, which contains many dimly-lit scenes). No edge enhancement is visible, and I could detect no compression artifacts.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
French, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: In keeping with the transfer, the audio on this DVD is also top-notch. Excellent use is made of the surrounds, and the subwoofer gets quite a workout during some of the action scenes. The English Dolby 2.0 surround track is less involving, and I'm not sure why Columbia chose to include it, since a Dolby 5.1 English soundtrack is also included. In both the 2.0 and 5.1 English tracks, the dubbing is merely okay, better in the cases where the actors dubbed their own voices.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Mathieu Kassovitz, Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Columbia have included some excellent extras here, which will help the interested viewer not only to understand more about the process of making the movie, but also to understand some of the gaps in the convoluted plot. The first, The Investigation, is an excellent 52-minute documentary with the director, author of the original novel/co-scenarist Christophe Grangé, and the main stars. It covers everything from the novel and its success, the difficulties in adapting it for the screen, selection of actors, problems with the shooting, editing, and more, and includes scenes or portions of scenes that were ultimately deleted from the film. Three shorter "making-ofs" are included in the category The Post Mortem, each of them analyzing a particular scene. The first, The Corpse> (26 mins.), analyzes in detail how an early sequence in a morgue was designed and shot, and explains the process of creating the incredibly detailed and realistic model of the first victim. The other two, The Car Chase (9 mins.) and Mountain Sequence (11 mins.) deal more with the difficulties encountered while filming their respective sequences, and are less interesting.

A commentary with Kassovitz, Reno, and Cassel is included, but it is in French-only with no subtitles. It's informative and occasionally amusing, but much of the material is rehashed from the other extras on the disc.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

An excellent DVD of a not-so-hot movie. French director Mathieu Kassovitz tries for a big Hollywood style thriller, but due to his lack of originality and a contorted plot, he ultimately fails.


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