Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Simon Killer

Simon has just graduated from college with a degree in neuroscience. His thesis, on the relationship between the brain and the eye, has been published in a scientific journal. (It has to do with how the brain determines the width of an object by giving it a weighted average of the widths of the objects around it.) His longtime girlfriend has recently left him, making it clear she doesn't want him in her life at all. As "Simon Killer" opens, the son of a friend of his mother's lets Simon stay in his Paris apartment for a week while he vacations in the south. Simon owes little more obligation than to wander the streets aimlessly, suggestible to whatever encounters may present themselves.

A barker accosts him. Come over to that bar across the street with the neon lights. Buy a drink for $10, inspect the merchandise, and if you don't see anything you like, be on your way. Simon agrees. A girl with dark hair asks him to buy drinks for them so they can talk. He asks how much that costs. $20. He buys them. They talk. She excuses herself. A girl with lighter hair replaces her. Her name is Victoria. She tells him some of the things she can do for him. He asks how much each costs. They retire to the second floor. She undresses. He brings himself to orgasm just by seeing and touching her naked body. They feel a connection. They exchange phone numbers. A week later, Simon is mugged by some street toughs. He moves into her place.

After a while, Simon hits on an idea. Instead of taking a little bit of money from a lot of men, why doesn't Victoria take a lot of money from one man? Secretly videotape one of her sexual encounters, and they can use the recording to blackmail the john. They try it. The first guy turns out to be a cop, who matter-of-factly tells Simon he can make him disappear with no consequences. They decide to find another mark, Rene, a wealthy black businessman with a wife and a family. This time, the plan works. Meanwhile, Simon has reconnected with a girl he met in the subway on his first night in Paris, and begins staying out at dance clubs, coming home late or not at all.

There is a good deal of violence in "Simon Killer," and a good deal of sex (and a fair amount of violent sex). All of it feels real in a way that most movie violence and sex does not. The director, Antonio Campos, neither overplays nor shies away from it. Brady Corbet plays Simon, and brings to him a shyness and a self-effacing quality (he's always apologizing for his high school French) that contrasts interestingly with his size and strong physicality. The dance music (I'd love to get ahold of the soundtrack) conveys the distrait anonymity of Simon's life in Paris, how easily he could fall off the grid, not necessarily by choice but simply by circumstance and bad luck. He floats through his days and nights. Scenes end with fadeouts to reds, blues, and purples, like a monochromatic screen saver from an early-generation computer.

What makes "Simon Killer" linger in the mind days later is the giddy uncertainty of it. The final scene takes place at a customs booth as Simon leaves France, hurriedly, in fear of being chased. Simon gives an answer to one of the agent's questions that's totally different from what he's said all along - something one of the subway girls told him when he asked her the question. We've seen him straddle the line between situational behavior and pathology, as when he called Rene, got his voicemail, and called back time after time after time. Now we're left to wonder how much of what we thought we knew about him is true (anything?) and how much is snippets of other people's conversations, other people's lives. "Simon Killer" stays with you.

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