Directed by: Antonio Campos
I’ve been away for a while. It feels important that my return to this site covers a film that scared me in a peculiar way. I can only recall two other times that I have been unsettled like this by a film, and I don’t mean frightened by a jump-out-of-your-seat holy mackeral horror scene. I mean, a believable, this is chilling because the man I am watching might have passed me on the street and chances are I didn’t notice him. It’s the kind of feeling that sends a shiver straight through my body. The first time was after watching ‘Taxi Driver’ when I was aged in my late teens. The second came a couple of years back when I watched Michael Fassbender’s performance as Brandon in ‘Shame’. These films featured sociopathic lead characters that despite their deep flaws you can empathize with, and to an extent will them along their path to redemption. In a sense both of these films have accidental ‘happy’ endings. ***SPOILERS*** Travis resumes his day job after his ‘heroic’ deed in rescuing the young prostitute Iris, and Brandon is able to get back in time to ‘save’ Sissy. There is a big ‘but’ tacked onto both of these endings, suggesting that if the film were continue, then things might get a whole lot bleaker for the protagonists. In ‘Simon Killer’ there is no redemption for the main character. The ending is ambiguous.
Simon is a wandering American student who has travelled to Europe because it seems to be the right thing to do for a person of his age. Simon is out of his depth, socially awkward and lost. He explores Paris trying in vain to connect to people. Brady Corbet is superb, playing Simon with a quiet intensity that builds throughout the film.
Early in the film Simon, feeling lonely after a bitter break-up, decides to visit a brothel. He becomes infatuated with a fragile, literally scarred, prostitute called Noura. Simon, who longs for affection, mistakes Noura’s professionalism for a sign of attraction. Noura, in time begins to fall for Simon because of his innocence. They begin a passionate relationship and she tells him her real name – Victoria.
The film skips a bit to a point when Simon and Victoria plot to blackmail some of Victoria’s clients. The decision is rash and ill-thought out, perhaps representing Simon’s inability to think what the consequences might be before he acts. Simon stands to lose nothing from the plan, worst case scenario he can run away when it all goes wrong. Inevitably it is Victoria who receives the brunt of the punishment when things go awry.
Antonio Campos uses a soundtrack of empty hedonistic electronic music like Spectral Display’s stripped back diet Talking Heads track ‘It takes a muscle (to fall in love)’ to show Simon’s bubbling emotions as they struggle to take genuine form. The music, like Simon’s rational thoughts, fade into the distance. The soundtrack like in Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ is integral in providing the heartbeat, reminding us that Simon is human after all. As when things slow down Simon authentically plays soul jams on vinyl. Revealing glimpses of a deeper layer within himself.
Simon is the accidental tourist, unsure of his role in Paris. Is he there for life experience? Does he want a Parisian affair to get over his break-up? Is he running away from something he did in the States? It gets to the point where he confuses himself, tangling a web of lies around him. These lies work perfectly because Simon doesn’t reveal all that much about who he is to the people he encounters in the French capital, even though likely he is searching to find who he is out in Paris, and this creates a wonderful amount of discord and confusion.
We must guess and assume what motivates Simon, and this makes the film darkly irresistible. Playing the amateur psychologist causes us to deductively reason what makes Simon tick, picking up on little clues, like how his makes love aggressively, yet desires affection almost in maternal sense from his sexual partners. Then there’s this desire to be punished, to feel pain. At one stage he deliberately gets himself beaten up. The complexity of the film leads us to consider the simplest possibility that Simon is merely a flawed man exposed in a city so sure of its identity.