Movie Review by Alice Castle
Starring: Stefano Cassetti, Isild Le Besco, Patrick dell’Isola, Vincent Deneriaz, Viviana Aliberti
Director: Cedric Kahn
Roberto Succo was a convicted rapist and murderer who terrorised women along the Mediterranean and up to Savoy in the late 80s. As France’s enemy number one, Succo was the subject of a huge manhunt which ended with him killing two policemen before ending his own life in custody in Italy. In Cedric Kahn’s film Succo is played by the magnetic Stefano Cassetti, an Italian unknown who Kahn selected for his under-the-surface-any-moment-could-turn-violent quality – (if indeed you should be calling that a quality!).
In a Bonnie and Clyde-esque treatment of the years leading to his arrest, Kahn forces you to question your feelings and sympathy for the criminal – portraying Succo as a rather sad, lonely individual who managed to keep a non-violent, weekend relationship going with a young schoolgirl Lea (Isild Le Besco) throughout the period when his weeksdays involved breaking into houses, robbing and raping women.
The script was based on a book by Pascale Froment, a journalist who wrote a psychological study on Succo. How he maintained a non-violent relationship with Lea, was something that fascinated Froment about Succo. As the only person Succo ever becomes close to, Lea did begin to sense that something was not quite right about Succo but she kept quiet. Even when his habit of cleaning his toe nails with a sharp knife or the fact he was driving a different car every weekend disturbed her she kept quiet – and in the film you don’t get the feeling it is through fear. Lea forced herself to deny that anything was too perturbing about Succo, and they maintained their relationship for almost a year. Eventually she does realise that she must end the relationship after Roberto Succo tells her that he killed his own parents back in Italy.
There is always the feeling that given proper love and care, Succo would not have turned to crime. Whether it was true or not, we view some of his kidnappings where he never laid a finger on his victims, and was even polite. The most notable, was the medical student who he kidnapped and kept prisoner for a whole night in her own car, before kissing her on both cheeks and wishing her good luck in her exams. What amazed me was how calm she was! The other astonishingly cool victim, was the calm and practical Swiss school teacher (Viviana Aliberti) who drove Succo through several road blocks along the border to avoid him shooting her in the head.
I do believe that Kahn has tried to avoid glamorising Succo – there are plenty of gruesome photos to add realism to the horror of his crimes – and I wasn’t living on the COte d’Azur at the time. But there is danger in making the man a psychologically fascinating criminal legend, in the guise of a modern day Jack the Ripper perhaps. When the film was released in France people protested outside cinemas and at Cannes police officers held a symbolic protest against the picture in memory of the colleagues who were murdered by Succo.