Friday, January 3, 2014

The Top Ten Films of 2013: #7


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 assigning it a weighted average of the widths of the objects around it.) His longtime girlfriend has recently left him, making it clear she wants him out of her life for good. 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 no 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 - the one with the neon lights. Buy a drink, inspect the merchandise, and if you don't see anything you like, be on your way. Simon consents. 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 the price of each. 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 and exchange phone numbers. A week later, Simon is mugged by some street thugs. He moves into her place.

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 mec turns out to be a cop, who matter-of-factly informs Simon he can make him disappear without consequence. They choose to find another mark. Rene is a wealthy black businessman with a wife and family. This time, the plan works. Meanwhile, Simon reconnects with a girl he had 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," 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 with a shyness and a self-effacing quality (he's forever apologizing for his high-school French) that contrasts intriguingly with his size and physical stature. The thumping club music conveys the distrait anonymity of Simon's life in Paris, how easily he could fall off the grid not by choice but by circumstance and bad luck. He floats through his days and nights. Scenes end with fadeouts to reds, blues, or purples, like a monochromatic screen saver from an early-generation computer.

The final scene takes place at a customs booth as Simon hurriedly leaves France, in fear of being chased. He gives an answer to one of the agent's questions that's completely different from what he's said all along - something one of the subway girls had told him when he asked her the question. We've seen Simon straddle the line between situational behavior and pathology, as when he calls Rene, gets voicemail, and calls 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 what are snippets of other people's conversations, other people's lives. "Simon Killer" stays with you.

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