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  Serpent, Le Snake-In-The-Grass
Year: 2006
Director: Eric Barbier
Stars: Yvan Attal, Clovis Cornillac, Pierre Richard, Simon Abkarian, Minna Haapkylä, Olga Kurylenko, Gérald Laroche, Jean-Claude Bouillon, Veronika Varga, Pierre Marzin
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Plender (Clovis Cornillac) has a grudge against society which exhibits itself in the manner he gets his money. Not for him the nine to five, he gets by using blackmail to squeeze thousands of euros out of his victims, as he does with lawyer Mr Cendras (Pierre Richard), who answers an advertisement in a newspaper and is hooked up with Sofia (Olga Kurylenko), who claims to be new in the country. They go to what is apparently her apartment, one thing leads to another and Plender now has a lot of photographs of Cendras in compromising positions. But what of his old school friend, the now-wealthy Vincent (Yvan Attal)? What could he do with him?

Le Serpent was based on a novel by Ted Lewis, the author who had written the book Get Carter was based on, but what co-writer (with Trân-Minh Nam) and director Eric Barbier fashioned from it was less gritty than the Michael Caine classic and more glossy, a slick thriller from top to toe. It's so slick in fact that it's pretty hard to believe the longer it goes on, looking to Hollywood conventions rather than, say, a Claude Chabrol style of suspenser more traditional in France. If you can take the frequent implausibilities, then you will doubtless enjoy it.

When we first meet Vincent he is being kept awake by the trilling and twittering of his children's pet canary, and in his efforts to silence it the bird escapes its cage and flies out of the window. Vincent then has to rush out to pet store, buy a new canary, paint it to look more like the escapee, and then get up in the morning as if nothing had happened. His son may be fooled, but his daughter is not - so what is this? A comedy too? The answer is no, as this is about as lighthearted as the plot gets because soon photographer Vincent, who is going through a divorce from his rich wife, is being targeted by Plender.

Plender has to get something to blackmail his prey with, and here's where it starts to get convoluted. He sends Sofia to pose as a model for Vincent, making sure to waylay this assistants so it's just those two in the studio, and then Sofia (future Bond girl Kurylenko) contrives to get into an embrace with the victim, scratching him in the process. Soon he is accused of rape by her, with the skin under her fingernails as proof of the assault, and it's not looking good for his hopes to win custody of his children, with his wife Hélène (Minna Haapkylä) planning to take them to Munich where he won't see them.

Vincent consistently does the wrong thing thereafter. When Sofia invites him to a meeting in his studio to admit that the accusations are a sham, he goes alone, not even taking his lawyer Sam (Simon Abkarian) with him, so of course he ends up drugged and posed into bondage photos with Sofia. Not only that, but as she is leaving she slips on the stairs and falls to her death (!) as the woozy Vincent fails in his attempts to save her. Then the body disappears. It's just one damn thing after another. Plender is behind it all, naturally, and now has enough ammo to wring cash out of the photographer.

There's a hint at depth here, when it is revealed Plender has a dark secret in his childhood connected to Vincent: when they were schoolchildren Plender was the outcast and picked on by the others, leading to a horrendous and traumatic incident one night. So is Plender justified in his actions? Of course not, his experiences may have twisted his mind but that's no excuse for his behaviour: he's your common or garden movie psychopath. His antics grow ever more hard to accept as the police, who are especially stupid here, do nothing but cause trouble for Vincent and back up Plender's claims. There is one ray of hope, however, and that's Cendras (Richard doing fine in a rare straight role), but can he be persuaded? Barbier evidently thought he could make a Hitchcock-style innocent man on the run thriller, and to a point he succeeds, only that point is where he goes too far over the top. Music by Renaud Barbier.

[Metrodome's Region 2 DVD has interviews with the director, producer and Kurylenko along with a making of and the trailer as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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