Canada / 125 minutes / color / Christal Dir: Jean Beaudin Pr: Christian Larouche, Ginette Petit Scr: Jean Beaudin, Chantal Cadieux Story: Le Collectionneur (1995) by Chrystine Brouillet Cine: Daniel Jobin Cast: Maude Guérin, Luc Picard, Lawrence Arcouette, Charles-André Bourassa, Yves Jacques, Julie Ménard, Yvan Ponton, Christian Bégin, Alexis Martin, François Papineau, Michel Deschênes, Ève Duranceau, Yves Corbeil, Nathalie Trépanier, Louis Wiriot.
I haven’t read any of French-Canadian author Chrystine Brouillet’s crime novels, but I must say that watching this movie made me quite keen to do so. Unfortunately, so far as I can see, the only novels of hers to have been translated into English are for children. Hopefully some enterprising publisher will rectify this situation soon.
Le Collectionneur (“The Collector”) is not for children, although it has children at its heart. Based on Brouillet’s third novel about cop Maud Graham, the movie sees the intrepid investigator on the trail of a serial killer.
Twenty-five years ago, 12-year-old Michel Rochon (Deschênes) had a strange relationship with his narcissistic, bodybuilding-crazy mother (Trépanier). There was hatred for her, certainly, but there was also a distinct erotic undercurrent: she kept showing off her muscular, scantily clad body to him while at the same time treating as taboo his sexual curiosity. He took out his frustration and confusion, we infer, on animals; in one horrifying sequence we see him beat a dog to death.
The young Michel (Michel Deschênes) eyes up Mom.
Today, in Québec City, Detective Maud Graham (Guérin) is called in when a dumped van is reported; its interior is a bloodbath, although there’s no corpse. Soon, however, the mutilated corpse of a young woman is found: the body is missing an arm and a leg, and there are three small punctures around the navel. It’s this small detail that enables Graham to link the murder to some earlier ones, spread out over the past several years and committed not just in Canada but in Maine. In a televised press conference she expresses some pretty forthright and none too complimentary opinions about the murderer’s characteristics, her attention being to annoy him and draw him out.
Cab-driver Claude Brunet (François Papineau) is one of those reluctant to help Graham in her hunt for the killer.
Graham’s personal life is complicated, not because of a lover or whatever—she has none—but because she has struck up a friendship with 16-year-old male street prostitute Grégoire (Arcouette), whom she frequently allows to sleep in her spare room; it’s obvious to us that she’s a sort of surrogate mother to him, even though he bitterly rejects any such suggestion. The complication is upped when Grégoire brings home a much younger boy, Frédéric “Fred” Tanguay (Bourassa), a 12-year-old runaway whom he has saved from a sexual predator (Wiriot). Graham and Fred bond immediately: although she knows she should turn him over to the child-protection services, she puts off the moment.
Fred (Charles-André Bourassa) soon settles in at Graham’s apartment.
Gregoire (Lawrence Arcouette) takes the games seriously in the arcades where he picks up his clients.
The killer is of course Michel “Mike” Rochon (Picard), the grown-up version of the highly disturbed kid we saw earlier. He does indeed respond to the tacit challenge Graham issued during the press conference. With more mutilatory murders under his belt, he chooses as his next victim the police department’s dispatcher and research stalwart Josée (Ménard), who in her off-duty hours is a bit of a good-time girl, cruising the Steel Bar in hopes of fun and sex. She gets picked up by Michel (although she doesn’t know his name), takes him home and then is savagely beaten by him. For some reason, he doesn’t kill her, just steals the panties from her unconscious form and leaves. Those panties will later return in sinister circumstances.
Josée (Julie Ménard) fights for her life in the grip of the strangler.
Michel (Luc Picard) gazes almost sadly down on his latest victim.
One of Grégoire’s clients is a character he calls The Teacher, François Berger (Jacques), a transvestite who gives performances imitating the great French chanteuse Dalida in Québec’s gay clubs. There’s a connection between Berger and the first of the killer’s Québec victims, but Graham assumes it’s unimportant until much later, when she sees the interior of his apartment and the weird sculptures he creates. By the time she’s got a warrant, however, he’s scarpered . . . not to be seen again until he turns up as the killer’s next victim.
As the transvestite Babette Brown, The Teacher (Yves Jacques) emulates Dalida in niteries.
From the limbs that have been hacked off the several victims, Graham is able to deduce that the killer is collecting the parts necessary to construct—or reconstruct—a complete female figure. He seems to be targeting especially the staff and clients of a gym called Sportec Plus, run by one Jean Casgrain (Corbeil); Graham guesses the killer requires only healthy, fit women for his “collection.”
The murder of Berger throws a spanner into that particular line of hypothesizing, even though we’ll in due course discover that essentially she was right. By then the killer has thoroughly invaded her life, having kidnapped Fred with the intention of using him as bait to lure Graham, whose soul he desires to excise as the missing ingredient of the “sculpture” he’s been assembling from the body parts he has “farmed.”
At HQ, a composite picture of Michel emerges.
I had some very equivocal reactions to Le Collectionneur. On the one hand, it seemed to be composed largely of a whole string of serial-killer-chiller clichés, from the killer starting to focus on the female detective (hello, Patricia Cornwell and a legion of disciples) to the mother-fixation (hello, PSYCHO ), to the inexplicable mutilations (hello, everyone) to . . . well, fill in the rest of the list for yourself. On the other hand the tale was, overall, told so well that it read better than perhaps it was.
Michel (Luc Picard) in his guise as a Youth Protection officer.
And it was all held together by a completely charming performance from Guérin. Don’t get the impression from my use of the word “charming” that she’s being all submissively feminine in every direction, simpering at the camera, etc. The Maud Graham she’s portraying is a tough cookie in many ways, happily prepared to bawl out her boss, Robert Fecteau (Ponton), and her nearest colleague, Roger Moreau (Bégin), whenever they’re being stupid and/or sexist, which is most of the time. But she’s immensely likable and clearly has a good heart, evident not just in her quasi-maternal relationships with the kids, no matter how vilely they behave (mainly Grégoire), but also in her kindness toward Alain Gagnon (Martin), the social-skills-deprived pathologist who for long has been carrying a torch for her. Guérin’s Graham is not at all the kind of figure you’d expect to be a kickass action heroine; no Angelina Jolie, she. The movie is all the stronger because of it.
Maud Graham (Maude Guérin) knows she’s close to her perp at last.
Brouillet’s novel Chère Voisine (1982) was adapted as GOOD NEIGHBORS (2010) dir Jacob Tierney, a bizarre noirish black comedy that I liked very much and covered in my A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir. The two movies couldn’t be more different, but they’re both of interest.
This is a contribution to the O Canada! blogathon that’s being hosted this week by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Make a beeline to their two excellent sites for all the blogathon’s latest postings.
On Amazon.com: Le Collectionneur [DVD]