Spotlight on a Murderer

Studio: Arrow Academy

Jun 15, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Georges Franju’s 1961 film, Spotlight on a Murderer, is an odd little movie. It opens with Count Kerloquen, an old, sick man alone in his castle. He putters and mutters and hides behind a mirror in a secret chamber. There, he dies.

Spotlight on a Murderer is set up like a mystery where the audience is aware of the answer the characters on screen are searching for. Count Kerloquen’s family arrive – seven in total – to claim his estate. The problem is no one knows where his body is. While aware of his illness, they know he is surely dead, by the legal definition he is missing. The family is thus told they cannot claim their inheritances for five years, and in that time need to maintain the bills and upkeep related to the castle. Unless, of course, the old man turns up.

The cousins devise a method to make some money to help by opening the castle up to host a play of sorts on a piece of the family’s history. A previous count in the castle loved to hunt. His wife was lonely and took a lover. The count returned early, caught them, and killed the lover. His wife, distressed, threw herself to her death from one of the castle’s towers. This, they turn into a play without actors – instead relying on a spotlight and pre-recorded sound effects along with narration to tell the tale to paying customers. This sequence is one of the highlights. Even though the film has already told this story – one character to his girlfriend – it feels more polished and alive this way.

During the set-up, however, members of the family start dying mysteriously. It’s posited that one of the family members, deciding if he or she must wait, is knocking them off one by one so the inheritance will be all theirs when the time comes. That, or everyone is simply exceedingly unlucky. Or perhaps the old man is still alive or haunting them from the void.

The Arrow Academy Blu Ray describes the film as evocative of Agatha Christie, and that’s not difficult to see. While it’s mired in death and sorrow in terms of its plot, the story is handled with a very light touch. Perhaps, too light a touch. As the cousins stop dropping, no one really seems bothered – except Jeanne, but her thread requires her to be distraught. Instead, everyone remains very casual and set on going forward with the plan. While this provides a jolt of humor, it also provides the film’s primary issue: a lack of urgency.

And as such, the characters lack a certain amount of definition. This may be attributable to problems outside of Franju’s control. In an essay by Chris Fujiwara, “Cinema Insolite,” within the accompanying booklet, he explains that producers were meddling with the script and forcing unfunny comic elements – hence the odd light touch that feels occasionally out of place.

What results is a slightly messy, mostly amusing oddity that is a perfectly reasonable way to spend 90 minutes. It’s briskly paced with no wasted energy. If anything, it could use some extra padding. The real star of the film is its setting. The castle, especially one as vast as the one present, provides an immediately compelling place for a contemporary mystery. It’s a place out of time, more connected to its history than it is to the practicality of modern day. And so, everyone is a bit off-balance. That the overall mystery is treated with a bit of an afterthought is not too disappointing. Marcel Fradetal’s cinematography captures its majesty and mystery in equal measure with wonderful uses of light and shadows.

Not as well known as Franju’s previous feature, the exquisite Eyes Without a Face, Arrow has presented an opportunity to get better acquainted with the director’s output. Spotlight on a Murderer is a fine film that may feel a little slight but nevertheless is worth visiting for its various surface pleasures even if the central story is less than fully satisfying.

www.arrowfilms.co.uk




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