April 13, 2007
Fantasy Manhood from FranceBy Thomas Lifson
Many Americans disdain French masculinity. Rightly or wrongly, they see France as poulet territoire, ready to partner with rogue regimes and surrender to the next semi-serious invader. The spectacle of Muslim youth gangs roaming the housing estates and causing violence in city centers has not added to the manly luster of France.
Inevitably the question arises: how do the French deal with anxiety about their national manliness, their will to stand and fight? After all any rational person knows the demographic tide of Islam, bearing with it a portion of radical jihadists, confronts France with a serious threat from within. Le Pen's nationalistic ranks aside, the creative classes probably don't dare deal with this directly, even as the French soul hungers for reassurance that somehow France will save itself as a Western democratic secular society. The subject matter is well suited to the genre of movie thrillers.
A really good movie thriller speaks to the secret fears of the public. Classics like Jaws and Psycho confront dark corners of the soul where lurk unconscious primeval fears. Others, like North by Northwest have an ordinary man caught in a nightmare scenario, struggling against mysterious opponents, and in the end finding not just escape but triumph. Still others, like Charles Bronson's Death Wish series beginning in the 1970s, show an ordinary man standing up and fighting back against a widely-perceived threat (in this case against a huge rise in violent crime in the 1960s), fulfilling a manhood fantasy for a large movie-going demographic.
But for a French film director today to address the fear of the rise of Muslim violence, it would be necessary to operate at a purely metaphorical level, staying away from anything which might suggest a connection to politically incorrect hate-mongering against Muslims or Islam. After all, France locks up people for what it regards as inciting hatred. Keep the subject matter overtly unrelated, but throw in some telling symbolic details allowing viewers to realize what the game is.
Surprisingly, a French director has slyly made just such a thriller, a skillful one at that, superficially unrelated to the threat of violent Muslims, but obviously speaking symbolically to it. The film, Feux Rouges, or Red Lights, came out in 2004, to largely positive reviews internationally. In the United States, it even won the Independent Spirit Award (considered the OscarsTM of indies) for best foreign film.
Done in the style of Hitchcock and/or Chabrol, it is a tale of a French man standing up to a violent escaped con, one who doesn't obey the same law as the rest of us, as the film observes. The movie scrupulously avoids any overt suggestion that the escaped convict is ethnically other than French. But by not giving him a name and having him wear a beard, it does not close that door either.
On the surface the French man, an alcoholic in the shadow of his more successful wife, kills a man who attacked and raped her after they separate while on a journey to pick up their kids from summer camp. Accompanied by the dreamy orchestral lushness of Debussy's Nuages (listen), a nightmare unfolds, but one with an ironic happy ending.
The setting chosen by director and screenplay co-author Cédric Kahn makes the metaphor inescapable. The attack and subsequent murder of the rapist unfolds between the cities of Tours and Poitiers, southwest of Paris, as the couple journeys to Bordeaux. Those names might ring a faint bell for those who have studied the highlights of European history. In France, I have to assume everyone knows their significance.
In 732 AD, Christianity stood its ground against Islam, which had been fighting northward from Moorish Spain, in this very locale. The Battle of Tours is also called the Battle of Poitiers because the battle was fought on ground in between the two cities. Charles Martel led Burgundian and Frankish forces against the army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by ‘Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-general of al-Andalu, which had advanced northward from Bordeaux before being stopped.
Generations of historians saw this battle was the turning point when Christendom finally halted the advance of Islam, ultimately pushing it back out of Europe, preserving Western culture. Muslims call this "the tragedy of al-Andaluz," and vow to bring Spain (and presumably southwestern France) back into the dar al-Islam. Of course the latest generation of leftist historians does not see the battle quite so heroically, but nobody disputes that a major historic event related to stopping Muslim aggression took place exactly where the film is set.
Red Lights is based on a 1953 novel by the giant of French language pulp fiction George Simenon, creator of the Inspector Maigret series. Simenon's novel is actually set in the United States, but the film's director Kahn re-set the movie in France, arguably to make it appeal more to a Francophone audience, but in my view his choice of exact location is conclusive as to his metaphorical intent. But he will admit no such thing. He is in fact on the record denying any significance at all for the setting:
The gentleman doth protest too much.
The movie is an excellent example of the thriller genre, and can be enjoyed without all the symbolic analysis. But when an American viewer factors in the metaphorical baggage, it becomes a classic of the politically correct era in which we live, an artifact of the unspoken terror, the specter which haunts not just France but all of Europe. After the killing is accomplished and understood by husband and wife in the movie, we see the begininng of a new harmony between them, just as France might reconcile its culture of glossy sophistication with its neglected rougher masculine side, the willingness to kill people and break things in the defense of what belongs to it. The suggestion is clearly that France needs to embrace both halves of its national character.
Fortunately, you can see Red Lights on a a national cable broadcast tonight. It is scheduled for 12:15 AM (Eastern and Pacific Times) (which makes it early Saturday April 14), on the Sundance Channel, normally home to countless left wing documentaries and dramas, a network so leftist that it actually broadcast videotapes of Al Franken's failed Air America show. If you or a friend have access to Sundance Channel and a recording device like a VCR or a DVR, by all means record it and treat yourself to what amounts to a popcorn movie with a political bonus.
If not, the DVD is in release in the United States, and can be rented from Netflix or purchased from the usual vendors of new DVDs.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of American Thinker.